Shaina McCoy’s Removal of Facial Features Opens a Broader Dialogue

Shaina McCoy fuses texture with the human figure in a refreshing manner. McCoy stumbled across the style her work inhabits today by working through technical aspects of her practice. The most recognizable trait in McCoy’s work is the removal of facial features, a choice that gives the viewer the opportunity to complete the narrative in front of them on their own. McCoy is based in Minneapolis, MN.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and when did art first become a significant part of your life?

I’m from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’ve always been engaged in the arts whether it was crafts as a child in elementary school or beginning drawing in High School. I attended Perpich Center for Arts Education from my junior to senior year. Those were the best two H.S. years of my life. If I did not attend that school to study visual arts, I don’t know where I would be today. We studied everything from art history, drawing, printmaking, painting, sculpture, and 3D art. I was introduced to various kinds of mediums. There, I discovered my love for painting.



Have you always painted in the style your work currently inhabits?

No, I have not. My first painting medium I really got into was acrylic. I was constantly using reference photos, and painting exactly that. It was flat, and matte. I used sharpie to outline facial features and what not. That was in the Summer of 2010. It wasn’t until 2012 that I was introduced to oil paint, and able to freely explore the medium. I didn’t know how to clean my brushes properly so the colors were muddy from the turpenoid. It took one class critique to tell me to clean them thangs, and my color palette became more vibrant, and clear. My father took me to the arts and crafts store to buy some brushes, but the only kind he could afford, and saw as reasonably priced tools was the assortment pack. I was disappointed because I really wanted the nice, expensive, smooth brushes. However, the assortment pack gave me the light texture I didn’t know would become an element of my style. I still love, and use those brushes ‘til this day! Fast Forward to 2015, I was asked to paint larger. So, from the little 5” x 7” to a 5’ x 4’ . I knew I could not tackle that massive scale with the tiny brushes I was using before. I got ahold of some bigger tools, and went at it. Much larger canvas that required different tools really helped me form a refreshed version of my former work.


Photo by Stefan Simchowitz

Why do the figures in your works exist without facial features?

My paintings exist without facial features simply because I could not paint them. I began using oil paint in High School. I was not used to the medium. Even though I could draw realistically, I could not execute the same way in the area of oil painting. As young art students, we strived for photorealism. If we could achieve that, we were worthy of praise. I had only three attempts in which I tried to apply myself- at some point I retired that idea (by the advice of one of our instructors). All of our paintings went through class critique, which helped us as individuals to strengthen our skills, and refine our style. There was a moment in one of our classroom critiques when ten of my little paints were before my peers, and two of our studio professors. I felt vulnerable, and scared for what they would say about my faceless figures. When I thought I would be torn apart, I was affirmed in the most gentle, reassuring way. The words that have stuck with me from my instructor in this time were that “You don’t have to paint facial features for it to be considered art. Don’t stop, you do it well, and like no one else.” She advised me to keep doing it. Since 2012, I have not painted facial features.


Your work embraces materiality, often building up layers of paint. Why do you employ this technique?

It is a second nature for me. I never intentionally meant to have the works buildup like this. This technique came out of change of scale in canvas. They got bigger, and so did the brushes. The perfectionist in me still craves to have my figures or subjects be recognizable to me. The only way I could still remain true to my style, and accomplish that is through the application of the oil paint, and using my brushes as sculpting tools. The oil paint is so thick that I’m able to take care of those details through the use of texture.


What is a day in the studio like for you?

A day in the studio for me is playing any song or playlist that’ll get me in my zone. Maybe a cup of coffee before I get started. Water ALWAYS. When I’ve found my rhythm, and get the little things out the way, I’m able to approach the canvas. There’s days where I only stretch, and prime, and others where I just mix colors back to back, and paint until I exhaust my energy. Oh, and dancing. Where’s there’s music, and me – you’ll find me dancing or singing.


What source material do you base your work off of?

All of the paintings are taken from family photos of mine. They range from immediate family members to distant loved ones. Very rarely will I ask a close friend to paint their family members. I like to know my subjects, but also can’t help myself when I see a familial display of affection from someone else’s collection of photographs. I will always ask for permission if I wish to use someone else’s material. For now, I’m focused on sharing archival images of my people, and sharing stories that have made me who I am.


Photo by Alice Dison


You are based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. How do you stay connected to the art scenes in bigger cities?

I have learned to use Instagram as a connective tool. If I like what someone is creating across the map, I follow them, and try to stay up with their latest happenings. Sometimes it is only a virtual experience that I am able to have with the art, and other times, I am able to travel and see the work. If I visit a city unrelated to art, I make an effort to go see some.



What’s next for you?

A solo exhibition with The Pit, LA!

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

I’m loving the work of Riley Holloway! He’s not only a painter, but a sculptor as well. There’s something about the way he paints figures, and gives them these lively backdrops. He accomplishes the art of storytelling through the brush, and I admire that.