Natural gifts come in many forms. Some children are naturally athletic and bring home trophies by the dozen. Others have a gift for music, mathematics or cooking, with talents surpassing their adult peers before they even reach puberty.
For Amy McKenzie, it was art. “Ever since I was a little girl, I remember wanting to sketch and doodle on anything that I had handy. I would go through a whole ream of typing paper in one afternoon just sketching,” recalls the Texas native, who later pursued a degree in interior design at University of Texas at Austin. “I wanted to major in art as soon as I heard about college, but my dad wasn’t too keen on that idea. I guess he thought I might need to support myself financially,” she says, laughing.
After graduation, McKenzie set off for Atlanta to pursue a design career, but a faltering economy left her with few job opportunities. She soon returned to Dallas, married her college sweetheart and got pregnant almost immediately with the couple’s first child. Despite the mounting pressures of married life and motherhood, her passion for art never waned. She wanted to paint.
“I started taking an art class from a portrait artist named Kay Polk. She taught me a lot more about composition, blending and shading, and things I hadn’t had the chance to learn in college,” says McKenzie, whose early style was inspired by Impressionists, like Monet and Matisse. She continued to hone her craft—and gave birth to three more boys—creating a delicate balancing act at home.
Says McKenzie: “I had four sons ages five and under at one point, but I still couldn’t stop painting. I would think, ‘This is such a messy hobby. I need to focus on being a mom.’ But I couldn’t. It was oozing out of my pores.” In time, friends and acquaintances began to commission her work, and McKenzie also started showing her paintings in the unlikely venue of Lover’s Lane Barber Shop, where her boys would get their hair cut. The nail salon in the back of the shop is popular with local interior designers, who quickly gravitated toward McKenzie’s ethereal, abstract works for client projects. In the past 15 years, she has sold more than 200 paintings from the informal gallery inside the Park Cities salon.
Her contemporary paintings are also on display at Kerr Collection, a custom furniture showroom on Dragon Street in the Dallas Design District, where McKenzie is the showroom manager. Customers will occasionally find her at her easel, hidden behind an oversized canvas as she brings her latest vision to life.
“My style has evolved,” says McKenzie, whose large-scale paintings feature soft, muted shades with splashes of blues, corals and lavenders. “I have found that our designers want paintings that complement their designs, they don’t want anything too crazy,” she says, adding that she sometimes looks at fabric swatches and new color trends for inspiration. Although McKenzie previously painted almost exclusively in oil, the medium is too messy for the showroom, so she favors acrylics, often mixing in plaster of Paris to create more texture on the canvas.
“What I like about the art that I keep here is that it’s happy art,” she says of the paintings on display at Kerr Collection, adding, “I feel like art should be uplifting to your spirt.” McKenzie was a fish out of water in the liberal enclave of UT Austin; she expresses her strong Christian faith through her art, titling her paintings with names of the attributes of God, Homesick for Heaven, Redemption, and Streams of Living Water.
“That’s where I get my inspiration, from the Lord and my relationship with Jesus,” says the artist. “No matter how bad things can get, I always have a safe place, because He loves me and He’s taking care of me.”
Leslie J. Thompson is a Dallas-based freelance writer with a passion for interior design.