News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Arts: Athletic artwork at play in Portsmouth
BY CRAIG SCHULIN
THE FREE LANCE-STARPhil McKenney’s background is a checkered one.
Twenty years working for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control went by before he went to college.
At the age of 44 he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in communication arts.
His artistic curriculum vitae through the years is diverse: editorial cartoonist, filmmaker, animator, advertising illustrator, sign painter, muralist and caricature artist and drawing teacher.
For a while McKenney worked as a courtroom sketch artist for television networks. One job was covering the early days of the Michael Vick trial.
But that isn’t the way McKenney prefers to draw athletes.
“Abstracted Action” is the name of his show that is now on display at the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame & Museum in Portsmouth.
“I’ve always loved sports, and for me it was a natural progression into sports art,” said McKenney of Montross.
He became fascinated with the work of expressionist LeRoy Neiman who often used sports as the subject of his work.
During his years at VCU, McKenney would ingratiate himself with the different sports programs at the school, gaining access to practices and games where he would hone his skills creating live sketches of the action on the field.
“At VCU I sketched at all types of sporting events. To me, live sketches allow you to capture the energy,” said McKenney.
He broadened the scope of subject matter to include professional sporting events, such as games of the Richmond Braves.
And he doesn’t just capture athletes.
“Sometimes I sketch the crowd, or the venue itself,” said McKenney.
For his paintings he will work from photographs or from his sketches or even his memory.
“I don’t like using canvas. It’s too bouncy,” he said
Instead, he tends to work more with wooden panels as a support medium
Something he says results in a piece with more earthiness.
“I mostly use a palette knife, or in my case a bent butter knife,” said McKenney.
His boxing scenes, the result of spending time at a gritty boxing gym, are some of his most impressive works.
His use of the wood panel allows him to capture the primal atmosphere of violence found in the rough and raw location.
McKenney will be the first artist whose paintings and sketches are being featured at the Virginia Sports Hall & Museum.
The Hall, which has been in existence since 1966, opened a new facility that has gallery space used for receptions and other gatherings.
“The wall space in the room is a perfect place for us to have a changing exhibit,” said curator Diana Blanchard Gross.
The Hall offers exhibits covering Virginia sporting history, as well as more interactive opportunities such as a gym and a sports complex that make a visit a family experience.
“People are going to be impressed with Phil’s work,” said Gross.
“His enthusiasm about sports and art, and his loose brushstroke that adds to the fluid movement, will impress,” said Gross.
WANT TO GO:
What: “Abstracted Action: Works” by Phil McKenney
Where: Virginia Sports Hall of Fame & Museum, 206 High St., Olde Towne Portsmouth
When: Opening reception Saturday, Jan. 12, 6–8 p.m. Exhibit runs through March 31
Cost: Admission is $7. Paintings are for sale.
Info: 757/393-8031; philmckenneytoons.com; vshfm.com
Craig Schulin: 540/374-5403