Kai McCall

(Montreal 1968 - Present)


Kai McCall’s paintings represent contemporary figures inspired by art history, as well as literature, illustration, and film, which are found in the narrative of his work. While being located in the present, the works challenge the past by borrowing the tones and colors of the great portraits of the 18th century.

Like in a fictional work, the figures in Kai McCall’s paintings face challenges and conflicts as they navigate the frames created for them. He considers them semi-autonomous individuals who poses evolve as they are painted, and which are defined by the possible actions that they endorse in a composition.

There are no detailed preparatory drawings. The character of his figures evolves gradually as Kai McCall modifies their hair, clothing or posture. This method offers maximum flexibility to the artist, who works directly on the canvas on the elements defining each figure, as he paints.

Despite the obvious nature of the imagery and the actions of the figures, the meaning behind Kai McCall’s work remains obscure, as there is always a certain ambiguity that disturbs the subject’s presence. The introduction of improbable or even surreal elements in the paintings evokes an ambivalent relationship between the subject and our expectations of portraiture. Kai McCall’s paintings can be read more like a fiction, where the last chapters would be missing. They ask the viewer to become aware of each conflict that takes place within the image. However, any final resolution remains suspended in time, in a pictorial ambiguity.

The Dutch styled paintings of the XVIIth century influenced the evolution of his series, both stylistically and conceptually. Some elements are found in the layered technique of the Dutch masters, to create shimmering fabrics and transparent skin tones.

Conceptually, Kai McCall is interested in the role genre painting played in the history of art. According to the hierarchies that existed at the time, genre painting was considered a subcategory, less important than the official portrait or historical painting. Kai McCall finds this hierarchy between genres interesting and relevant today, in the context of contemporary art.

Originally from Montreal, Kai McCall holds a BFA in fine arts from the University of Ottawa. His work is collected around the world, and he has been exhibited in Canada, the United States, and Europe. He is the recipient of several awards of Excellence from the Canadian Council for the Arts and is still working in Montreal.