Chris McGinnis’ artwork is rooted in site-based research exploring notions of human progress and identity through place. His most recent body of artwork, Arroyo, specifically investigates his relationship with Arroyo, a lumber town in western Pennsylvania with an extensive hide tanning industry. Arroyo remains a place intimately connected to the natural world that surrounds it. At once a natural and industrial resource, a place for recreation and escape, and a quite beautiful sanctuary cursed by the allure of American landscape nationalism. It is a place and an idea that has come to mean different things to many different people.
McGinnis grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania during the waning years of America’s post-war industrial paradigm. Shortly after his birth in 1980, the steel mills closed and the coal industry consolidated. Small towns in Southwestern Pennsylvania braced for an economic winter from which many communities have yet to emerge. As a child, McGinnis developed romantic notions of America’s industrial past that were typified for him, by the ruins of a 19th-century tannery located in Arroyo near his family cabin in Elk County Pennsylvania. Now hidden amongst the dense overgrowth, these ruins were the backdrops for his childhood reveries and continue to inform his research. Like an effigy to the impermanence of progress, rectangular mounds of dirt and moss now supplant the solid railroad ties that once transported hides to and from that tannery. McGinnis remembers searching with his siblings for the gnarled iron spikes still embedded in those mounds.
McGinnis' "Arroyo" series are painted on mule deer hide. The hide has a very attractive surface quality that accepts oil paint easily with limited preparation. Comprised of minute follicle details as well as larger variations in tone and texture, using this surface provides many opportunities to interact with the unique characteristics of each hide. Some have a visible "waffle" texture that was created by the drying racks while others are more pristine with only subtle shifts in the warmth of surface. The hides are stretched over oak wood panels that are often left partially exposed in order to draw attention to the relationship between the tanning and timber industry throughout Arroyo's history.
McGinnis is an artist, curator, and educator working in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. He has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally, with over ten solo exhibitions and over 40 group exhibitions in recent years. McGinnis has created projects for the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Urban Institute of Contemporary Art, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and The Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation. His artwork has been published in the National Studio Visit Magazine, European Art Magazine, Manifest’s International Painting Annual as well as numerous local and university publications including Pittsburgh’s Post-Gazette and The Tribune Review. McGinnis has worked for institutions across the country including Carnegie Mellon University, The University of Arizona, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he served as Director of the University’s Kipp Gallery from 2011 - 2016. He is currently Founding Director and Chief Curator for Rivers of Steel Arts a division of the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area and he is a co-founder of Alloy Pittsburgh a site-based art project and research laboratory developed for the Carrie Furnaces National Historic Landmark.
View images from McGinnis' 2018 BoxHeart Exhibition, Arroyo.