The City Magazine Since 1975

Brought to Light

Brought to Light
August 2018

Artist Devin McKinney searches for deeper meaning through light and sound

Experience Devin McKinney’s latest series, ”Breaking Through,” at the opening of his exhibit at Revealed Art Gallery on August 18. Find more info at

The goal is to jolt people out of their everyday experience,” says Devin McKinney, an artist by night and optometrist by day whose latest series, “Breaking Through,” debuts at Revealed Art Gallery on August 18. McKinney uses a blowtorch to create mesmerizing etchings in plexiglass through which LED lights shine and change intensity and color. He’s recently added an auditory component, too—this month’s exhibition is his first to use a modular synthesizer. It’s synced up to the artwork via photosensitive cell sensors, and each flicker of light morphs sound waves into a soundscape that amplifies the panels’ otherworldly effect. “Everything you add or adjust can result in something completely unexpected,” he notes. “There’s always more to explore.”

The allure of light: At my day job, I manipulate light to help people see. At night, I manipulate it for art. In school, I was interested in biology, but once you get into the physics of how light works, it’s crazy—that’s what lead me to optometry in the first place.

An enlightening experience: I’ve been creating for as long as I can remember. Cliché as it might sound, I had a life-changing meditation out on my porch in 2011, and afterwards, I knew I was going to work with light. It started with long-exposure photography, but I wanted to do something more tangible that people could interact with rather than just look at. That’s when the panels came into play—as you move around or view them from a distance, they take on different forms.

McKinney’s Breaking Through number 2 (RGBW LED, acrylic, enamel, and plexiglass; 24 x 48 inches)

Clean slate: For three years following that meditation, I completely disengaged from commercial culture. I read that the average person spends 20 years of their life looking at an electronic screen, and that was insane to me—I decided that I wanted to do something meaningful instead and leave something behind with the time I had left.

Finding a medium: I started making stencils for light projections, which led to blacking out the plexiglass and etching to chip away at the paint. Now the process involves anything from airbrushing to burning, but who knows where the next “mistake” might lead.

Double life: I’m a night owl. My wife, Jessica, and I have two boys, who are five and three, so I usually do all my artwork between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. in an area of my garage that I converted into a shop.

No right answers: My work can be very surprising. Everyone sees something different in it, like those inkblot tests. The sense of unknowing is what drew me to this form, and that’s what I’m trying to convey—when you stop trying to explain everything, you can stop for a moment to see that it’s constantly changing. Everything is in a continual process.


Photographs by (portrait) Melissa Sommer & (artwork) Devin McKinney