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Adventurer By Fate


Shea Stanfield
Arts Columnist

Local artist Michael McKee grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio, in a musical family and with the attitude that joy comes from the creative effort; art and music are what make us uniquely human. Much as Vincent Van Gogh wrote over a hundred years ago, “I am not an adventurer by choice, but by fate.” So the fate of young Michael’s adventures that set him on the path to developing his personal artistic expression.
It is through “paying attention” to the simple memories of moments and places that allow the art of Michael McKee to leap out of the edges of all boxes.

Michael’s father enrolled his son in weekend figure drawing classes at the Cleveland Art Institute at the age of 6. Here, he developed an appreciation for the figurative realists, Michelangelo, Rubens, Raphael, and other great Renaissance artists, learning from their expressive gesture and realism techniques. As he matured into his teens, Michael developed a keen interest for the impressionists, particularly Van Gogh and Cezanne, attracted by their generous use of color and unique use of subject matter. He was fascinated by the process of each canvas developing its own compelling story. At age 14, Michael started his first job, working for 3 summers, in a commercial animation studio painting backgrounds and learning the art of animation and illustration. By the time he was graduating from High School, Michael had gathered multiple scholarship offers. He selected the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for their nationally recognized program in Graphic design and Illustration. After graduation in 1976, he went to work for Gorman Advertising in Medina, Ohio where his focus was as a designer and illustrator.  

“Ever the adventurer by fate,” as Van Gogh, Michael left the advertising agency in 1978 to strike out on his own as a freelance illustrator. He founded a number of businesses in the Chicago area, centered on his graphic design and illustration background, but after 15 years in the corporate world the time had come to “feed the soul” in a more personal way. Over the years, Michael and his wife, Cassandra, had traveled on a number of occasions to New Mexico. It was during one of these visits to Chimayo, NM, the Land of Enchantment sang its siren’s song with lavishly colored sunsets, welcoming rich earth tones, and dancing mysteries in the shadows.  The artist responded to the call; in 2000, Michael was intuitively invited to work with the earth, in the form of soft pastels. He expressed, “In holding the pigment directly in my hands and feeling the immediate connection to the color it’s like painting with the earth.”

By 2014, Michael and his family moved to Fountain Hills, Arizona, where he now works from his home studio. Michael continues to push the envelope on his personal style in the creation of abstract landscapes and cityscape subjects. Private as well as corporate collectors across the country admire Michael’s richly saturated color, energetic lines, and bold, aggressive shapes collect his work. He also travels to a number of high-end art festivals each year to maintain a personal connection with his clients and enjoying meeting new ones.  Michael is a member of the Sonoran Arts League. This year, he will be a guest artist at the Carlos Pages Studio during the Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour the end of November. 

Michael welcomes visitors to his home studio. To make an appointment, please call (630) 779-3793. Also, visit his Web site,, to view a wide selection of his work and to obtain information on his upcoming events.

Contact Arts Columnist Shea Stanfield at