British painter, born in London. He studied at the Slade School of Art between 1959 and 1964 under Harold Cohen, who encouraged a modernist view of the importance of discovery through process. McKenna's subsequent development as an artist was very much based on a critique of this way of thinking, looking instead towards a kind of figurative painting. This was not the figurative tradition of the British art school as exemplified by Tonks and Coldstream, based principally on the life room, but instead an approach that could incorporate ideas, symbols, and historical reference. Therefore his dominant models lay in the French classical tradition of Poussin and of Jacques-Louis David, as well as later painters whose work looked back to classical antiquity, such as Böcklin and de Chirico. The strong element of revivalism in McKenna's art was, during the 1980s, linked to Postmodernism's rejection of the idea of progress. Nonetheless it was McKenna's aim not just to resuscitate the images and painting skills of the past but to comment on the present. For instance, The City of Derry (1982) revisits Giorgione's Tempest to reflect on the tragedy of the situation in Northern Ireland.
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, Stephen McKenna (1985)