The imposition of order on chaos was the description given by a colleague of Stephen McKenna to one of his paintings – a collection of boats in a harbour. In one sense the subject of many of the paintings of the last years – cities on rivers, or by the sea – are an attempt by man to impose order on nature, which in turn determined how those cities shall be used. McKenna’s interest is neither topographical nor social. What he looks for is the underlying geometry of their construction, which in turn influences how crowds and water move through them. Cities do of course have a particular character, but McKenna observes the peculiar nature of the light or the air rather than landmarks as such. Thus in paintings such as ‘Berlin Winter’, 2010 he finds the ice flows on the river Spree more significant than the Brandenburger Tor, the puddles in the foregound of “Alcantara” as worthy of attention as the abstraction of the architecture. While in the “Bosphorous Dredger” there is no trace of orientalism, the Blue Mosque is evident in “Istanbul”, even if the blue of the Golden Horn predominates.
Born in London in 1939, McKenna studied at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1959 to 1964. After 1973 he lived between Ireland, England, Germany, Belgium and Italy, and since 2000 solely in Ireland. He curated the "Pursuit of Painting" exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1997. A survey of his paintings from the nineties took place at the Hans und Sophie Tauber Arp Foundation, Germany in 2000 and a selection of work from 1969 to 2004 at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin in 2005. Other solo exhibitions include Museum of Modern Art Oxford (1983), Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (1984), Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1986), Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (1993), Ca di Fra, Milan (1999), Mestna Galerija, Ljubljiana (1997), Orchard Gallery, Derry (1996, 88, 81) and Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (2003). His paintings have appeared in numerous group exhibitions in Ireland, Europe and the USA, including Documenta 7, Kassel (1982), 'The Hard Won Image', Tate Gallery, London (1984), TheTurner Prize Exhibition (1986), McKenna/Picabia, Galerie des Beaux Arts, Bruxelles (1992).