In late February, 2021, Andrew Mcilvaine, assisted by Peggy, his Italian Greyhound, worked on a painting in his Overland Park studio. (photo by Jim Barcus)
In His First One-Person Show in Kansas City, the Mexican-American Artist Explores His Cultural and Family Roots
Viewing Andrew Mcilvaine’s recent work is like walking into a dream. Earlier this year, the Mexican American painter, sculptor and multimedia installation artist had his first one-person show in Kansas City after attracting the attention of Robert Gann, owner of the Habitat Contemporary exhibition space inside Leedy-Voulkos Art Center. The show, titled “Movement,” navigated the obscured and destroyed history of Mexican and Mexican American people and their resultant invisibility.
“The work is beautifully familiar,” Gann said. “You see this narrative where Andrew is reaching back to his cultural roots, finding loss, identity, and speaking to the element of diaspora. He ties it back to his family. So many pieces lead to his grandma, grandpa, his mother.”
The genesis for this recent body of work was the pair of haunting paintings “Eduardo Garcia” and “Hortência Pequeño,” named for the artist’s grandparents. “They wanted me to seek out more, ask more questions, pursue something larger,” said Mcilvaine. “I began working monochromatically, solely using cobalt blue and titanium white.”
In this sequence, he uses color to pose questions about family, loss and movement, as well as the world above us. Mcilvaine first developed his interest in cobalt while visiting Mexico. “I was seeing it on doors. I was seeing it on mosaic tiles. I was seeing it in religious spaces. Frida Kahlo’s home in Mexico City is painted in cobalt blue,” said Mcilvaine. “The color became a metaphor for my origins. Where do I come from? What connects me to this space?”
Some of the more striking images in the sequence include the moon, a family holding each other up while crossing a river, and a heart pierced with an arrow, based on the El Corazon card in the game la loteria.
A San Antonio, Texas, native, Mcilvaine moved to Joplin, Missouri, with his mother and brother as a child. “My mother would say it is a no-brainer that I became an artist,” said Mcilvaine.
Mcilvaine earned his Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He then received his Master of Fine Arts, with an emphasis in painting and drawing, from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. After living in St. Louis, he moved back to Kansas City. Since then, Mcilvaine has held positions at Metropolitan Community College-Kansas City, UMKC and the Kansas City Art Institute.
Like so many other artists, Mcilvaine has worked in restaurants and warehouses and held other odd jobs to pay the bills. “I have lived in apartments, houses, hotels . . . there was always this movement,” said the artist. “In that movement, there was a lot of loss.”
Mcilvaine remains committed to creating space for reflection. “I think this next continuation of narrative will be terra cotta pots with greenery and growth. And this idea of home,” Mcilvaine said. “That becomes really important for me right now. Movement is always growth.”