As an artist, DJ and fine art photographer, Palm Beach-based Kasha McKee marches to the beat of her own drum – or shall we say to the beat of her own dance music.
Born Katherine Marie Tomski in Canada 53 years ago to Polish and Ukrainian-born parents, McKee recently debuted her latest conceptual photographs in a solo show at the Palm Beach Art Antique and Design Showroom in Lake Worth Beach called Everybody Has a Heart.
The show, which runs through Aug. 30, was born out of the turmoil of the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, McKee says. “The last few years have been filled with conflict, social unrest, tension and people suffering through hard times,” she said. “My motivation with this new series of works is to highlight what we all have in common and celebrate the things we share.”
“Everybody has a heart and love is our common ground,” she says. “Even though I am Catholic, I’m a Buddhist at heart.”
The conceptual photographs, titled Adventure, Lifestyle, Candy, Romance, Luxury, Patriot, Family, Innovation and Enterprise (her personal tribute to Coco Chanel), convey a message of unity.
“Kasha McKee’s ‘Everybody has a Heart’ is a tour de force of her talent and creativity,” says Angelica Sua, executive director of the showroom. The 25,000 square-foot venue, founded in 2016 by Rob Samuel and Scott Diament of the Palm Beach Show Group, offers an art fair ambiance year-round.
“Her gallery space at the showroom has a wonderful range of themes, from the Horse Power triptych to her limited-edition photographs, and Kasha continues to expand her range of conceptual photography.”
“She is as vibrant and energetic as her art,” she says.
Like Warhol’s use of celebrity images or his use of common objects multiplied to create an effect, McKee uses iconic images such as Chanel cosmetics, strings of pearls and even Peeps marshmallows arranged in heart shapes to represent love of various kinds.
“This is the invisible string of unity that brings us all together. I’m inspired by beauty, love and extravagance,” says McKee, who began her career when she won a full scholarship to Ryerson University in Toronto (now Toronto Metropolitan University) to study interior design. It was there that she discovered and fell in love with photography.
She volunteered as an entertainment photographer for the school newspaper and made the rounds with a second-hand Pentax K 1000. Soon her full-page photo of the heavy metal band Pantera’s lead guitarist Dimebag Darrell (who was later shot and killed by a fan) made the front page.
Inspired, McKee came to South Beach in the mid-1990s, and began shooting male models, local celebrities and tattoo artists and became known for scouting and shooting fresh faces for modeling agencies in Toronto and Miami. She began curating her own pop-up spaces, finding sponsors and looking for creative ways to promote her large format acetate photographs.
From experimenting with 35mm, medium format film, digital and digital stills, music, performance art, modeling, acting and literature, McKee says she embraced being an artist and thrived in the underground art scene.
It was at a South Beach soiree in 2011 that McKee met “the love of my life” and future husband, Scott McKee, an airline captain for American Airlines (affectionately known as “Captain America”) and relocated to Palm Beach island.
McKee, who says she does not fit the mold or follow the trends in the art world, is coming into her own, taking matters into her own hands and defining her destiny. She began experimenting with conceptual photography and started building a new body of large-format fine art prints.
“My independence comes naturally,” she says, lamenting the fact that commercial success is not always easy to find and that she has had to knock on doors and advocate for herself.
Following her own heart, McKee says, “I have learned that being true to myself comes with hard choices.”
Her current show, she says, “is a breakthrough series. It’s me competing with my contemporaries, me playing along, my way. I will always maintain the integrity of art and promote a meaningful message in my work.”
As Warhol was the lead figure in 1960s Pop Art and Jackson Pollock was in the forefront of abstract expressionism, McKee is attempting to take the lead in conceptual photography, along with a small group of other photographers around the world.
“It’s given me the opportunity to push my own envelope with conceptual photography and I hope to take a lead in acknowledging the role conceptual photography is making in the art world,” says McKee, who credits her determination and grit to her Polish mother and grandmother.
“It is because of them that I am fearless and realize that the harder I work the more my labor bears fruit,” she says. “From insisting on a well-made bed, to an impeccable refrigerator and color-coordinated closets, I am driven to know what I am capable of with the power of love.”
Her large-scale conceptual photographs of fighter jets, flowers, flamingos and parrots, which she calls “extreme realism,” are often mistaken for paintings, and are composed of hundreds of digital images, layered upon each other, creating impossible, fantastical scenes.
She counts photographers Ansel Adams, Herb Ritts and David LaChappelle (especially his flood-inspired shots of the Sistine Chapel) as influences, along with Van Gogh (“first and foremost”), says she has an “appreciation” for Picasso and Pollock and “fell in love with Warhol for a while.” Musically, she puts Mozart, Queen, Supertramp, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin on her playlist.
“I am in pursuit of beauty,” says McKee, noting that she finds inspiration as well in her environment. “I discover beauty wherever I go, from architecture and urban design to the natural environment. I seek to uncover the beauty around me, bring it to life in my conceptual photographs and share it with my viewers and the world.”
Everybody Has a Heart runs through Aug. 30 at the Palm Beach Art, Antique and Design Showroom, 500 North Dixie Highway, Lake Worth Beach. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit palmbeachdesignshowroom.com or call 561-229-0046.