Casey McKee was born in Mesa, Arizona in 1976. Although he is now a full-time professional artist, his early creative career actually began in music – at the age of eight he started playing percussion and drums. He harbored plans to attend university with a music scholarship and eventually become a timpanist in an orchestra, but in his senior year of high school, he discovered photography, and his music dreams “…took a backseat.” Casey remained musically active for several years, playing in bands ranging from experimental noise projects and rock bands to improvisational jazz bands, but visual art had taken over as his primary focus.
In pursuit of his new-found artistic passion, Casey took a few beginning photography and art classes, and then “…learned by doing.” He visited artist friends in their studios and watched them work, absorbing their techniques and methods. He supplemented his self-education by reading technical manuals and art books, and spent a few years assisting commercial photographers to learn about lighting and different camera systems. “My greatest education, though,” says Casey, “was the fact that I was constantly working and trying out new things. I set up my first darkroom at home when I was nineteen, and immediately began working seriously.” He also found inspiration in the works of Henry Cartier-Bresson, whose documentary-style photography profoundly moved the young artist, and excited him about his new-found medium of photography.
In Spring 2003, Casey made a spontaneous decision to move to Europe (without a plan of how, where or when). Three months later, he gave away most of his belongings, packed a suitcase and a few boxes and boarded a plane for his new home – Berlin, Germany. He had no prospect of work, no friends, and“…no German language skills whatsoever”. He had never even visited Germany prior to his move. Says Casey about this adventurous relocation, “For some reason it felt like the place that I needed to be, so I went. Three and a half years later I can say with certainty that it was the best thing that I have ever done, and probably the craziest.”
Casey combines photography and painting to create works that are neither photographs nor paintings, but intriguing and powerful fusions of both mediums. Because he was a photographer first, that medium appealed to him on dual levels because of its technical and creative nature. “But painting,” says Casey, “is something completely different. It is absolutely limitless and free. I typically feel less satisfied if I am only working on one medium or the other.” He describes his works as “photo-based paintings” , a new medium that exhibits the qualities of both photography and painting.
Casey worked extensively as an editorial/fashion photographer while at the same time exhibiting his work in galleries, but ultimately pursued a fulltime career as an artist when he found making art to be far more rewarding and enjoyable.
Casey’s process involves first creating the photograph, then printing it onto a surface by use of a photographic emulsion. He then works oil paint into the photograph to bring out the desired expression in his works. To experience Casey McKee’s works firsthand is to realize the depth, layers and subtlety created with the fusion of the oil paint with the photographic emulsion. The final work is neither a photograph, nor a painting but something directly in between with qualities of both. “I am a spontaneous planner,” says Casey. “For my more conceptual-based work, I plan a lot, though I always allow for spontaneity while I am shooting. Many times the spontaneous ideas that occur during a photo shoot can be better than what was planned. When I am shooting in the street, it is completely spontaneous. When I travel, I always carry an old 1950’s Rolleiflex twin lens medium format camera and lots of film. The viewfinder is on the top of the camera and it hangs on my hip, so I can always have my finger on the shutter release, ready to capture anything that looks interesting to me.” Casey hopes that his works will provoke thought and emotion in his viewers. “I enjoy the many stages of my process – starting from an idea, taking the photographs, working in the darkroom to get the image printed onto a support, then into the studio to see what can be done from there to take it to the next level.”
Reading literature, news and non-fiction fuels Casey’s creative imagination, and inspire many of his ideas. He also finds inspiration from watching films and listening to music, and from “…just walking down the street and observing the ridiculousness of life.” When he’s not creating art, Casey continues to play the drums. “Everything I do is connected with my art in one way or another.” In fact, Casey is currently part of a two-person band with a lifelong friend and former band mate who lives in Phoenix, AZ. Says Casey about this endeavor, “The band is only a recording project, one in which we have to exchange music files via email back and forth. We create music with one another despite a major ocean and several thousand miles separating us.”
Casey McKee’s work has appeared in numerous publications, and has been showcased in group and solo exhibitions in several major US cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Scottsdale, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Chicago. He has also exhibited in London, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Berlin. Casey’s work has been collected by several public museums, including the Phoenix Art Museum, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art; a private museum, the Phinque Phamily Phoundation in Minneapolis; one university collection at the University of Texas at Austin; and the Georgia Dome Owner’s Club (the headquarters for the Georgia Falcons).
“Everything I do is connected with my art in one way or another.”
First creating the photograph, then printing it onto a surface by use of a photographic emulsion, Casey spends the majority of time working with oil paint to bring out the desired expression in his works.
Until he was 18, Casey devoted himself to the study of symphonic and orchestral music. By his junior year he was one of the top percussionists in the state of Arizona.