Judy Kensley McKie on Artsy

Playful Works on Paper from Judy Kensley McKie, a Celebrated Furniture Designer
By Bridget Gleeson

While Judy Kensley McKie is best known for her contributions to the field of contemporary studio furniture, drawing is nevertheless an essential part of her process.

Before she begins any piece in cast bronze, marble, resin, or stone, she creates a highly detailed drawing that serves as a blueprint. But McKie doesn’t draw for practical reasons alone. There’s another part of her practice, distinct but related, in which drawing isn’t a means to an end—it exists for its own sake.

At Gallery NAGA in Boston, a selection of these drawings take the form of woodcut prints, monotypes, and paintings on paper, compiled in a joyful new exhibition shot through with color and whimsy. Several of the works have never been seen before, and all offer a vibrant celebration of wildlife.

A smiling monkey, a grinning bear, and an energetic leopard are just a few of the characters McKie rendered on paper in the 1980s and ’90s, the years covered by this exhibition. By turns cheerful and melancholy, her playful subjects wouldn’t be out of place in a children’s book.

McKie has always been interested in animals. Some of her best-known design and furniture works also feature animals, such as the cast bronze Dog Bites Tail Table/Bench (2010). In some cases, those animal motifs reference indigenous cultures or the totemic forms of Pre-Columbian, African, and Native American art. Those influences are also apparent in her drawings, paintings, and prints. Pieces like Fast Horse (1988) and Bull(undated) are reminiscent of cave paintings, while the undated Young Zebra looks like a piece of African art, and Black Dog #1 (1990), with its elongated limbs, looks like it could have sauntered out of Ancient Egypt.

Also evident in these drawings is McKie’s facility with line and forms, the same strength that helps define her furniture design. In particular, the spare and elegant ink works showcase her dexterity and understated sophistication. As in her furniture, a few well-chosen lines and shapes are all that’s needed.