Skip to content

Our Folklore: How Painter Shaina McCoy Is Documenting Black History and Community Through Art

Usually, most people who are born and raised in a small town in the Midwest can’t wait to grow up and move to the big city. Not so for Shaina McCoy, who still lives in her hometown of Minneapolis in Minnesota, and she cannot imagine being anywhere else. This is largely due to the family and community she has around her, who surround her with love, support and constant inspiration for the work she produces as an oil painter.

Shaina began painting in 2010, while attending high school at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, MN. It was here that Shaina developed her Impressionist-inspired signature style of three-dimensional texture through thick brush strokes that rise up from the canvas. “I do appreciate mixing colors and I think that’s my favorite part of the process,” she says. She then went on to earn an associates degree in art from Minneapolis Community and Technical College in 2018. Before that, Shaina was in the gifted and talented class at school, where she would play chess, solve math problems and draw.

Shaina credits her great-grandmother, who was a prolific quilter, and her photographer grandfather for her creativity. It’s through the archive of family pictures taken by her “Pop Pop” that she finds the subjects of her signature faceless portraits. Despite the lack of faces (Shaina admits she’s not good at drawing those features), it’s very clear that the large-scale oil paintings she creates depict family, friends and members of her community. Through her paintings of her family’s likenesses, Shaina is physically preserving the memories and moments that are mostly confined to digital content nowadays.

Shaina’s work has been exhibited at the Ever Gold [Projects] in San Francisco, Denver’s Gildar Gallery as well as Art4Shelter, PLOT, and City Wide Artists Gallery in Minneapolis. Earlier this year, she made her European debut at Stems Gallery in Belgium with “B Is For”, a body of work based on Black girlhood in America. Coming up next is a show in Ghana, and a project away from family portraiture where she will be converting Kodachrome slides of Africa in the 1960s into oil paintings.

In this episode of Our Folklore, we sat down with artist Shaina McCoy for a  conversation about her creative process, how her family inspires her work and the messages she’s communicating through her art. Listen to the podcast here and on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and read excerpts from the interview below.

Our Folklore: oil painter and archivist Shaina McCoy

“I don’t know if I can really separate myself from the art, which is tough because I should be able to do that but I’m very much intertwined with the work.”

Our Folklore: oil painter and archivist Shaina McCoy

“Instagram has been a great tool for me. I always tell folks, you  better use it right now while it’s free, it’s a free marketing tool. If you love it, if you love doing something, show people. Your page shouldn’t be filled with selfies if you say, I’m a singer, I’m a dancer, I’m a creative, I play basketball, I’m a doctor. I want to see that stuff. It’s a portfolio and you have to use it that way. You never know who’s watching when it comes to the internet.”

“Self Portrait Number 9” by Shaina McCoy“Self Portrait Number 9”

“They say good people know good people and I thoroughly believe in that, and I haven’t been steered wrong.”

Our Folklore: oil painter and archivist Shaina McCoy

“This is the age of the internet and you can either use it as a tool or let it prosper against you as a weapon.”

“The McCoys” by Shaina McCoy“The McCoys”

“I have the most fun in hair because that’s always different, for the most part a different texture each and every time, doesn’t matter the thickness of the coil, or the ’fro, or a braid, it’s always something different.”

“Play” (2012) by Shaina McCoy“Play”

“I really want my paintings for people to feel warmth, I want them to pick up the phone and say, hey, I’m thinking about you… I want people to be close with their family.” 

Our Folklore: oil painter and archivist Shaina McCoy

“The internet has a way of separating us sometimes and it’s not a good thing. And it also has a way of bringing us together and so when people see these, whether they’re in person or an online platform I want them to know that this is deeper than just family portraiture and our moments. How does it make you feel when you leave the gallery? How does it make you feel when you put your phone down? Do you think about your people when you see these images? I would hope that you do, I hope that you see your people in these images.”



Images courtesy of Seth Aryee, Tayo Kuku/KITH, Shaina McCoy