Kayla Mahaffey Envisions the Self-Discovery of Adolescence Through Vibrantly Energetic Paintings in Acrylic

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“Pure Intentions,” acrylic and aerosol on linen, 24 x 24 inches. All images © Kayla Mahaffey, shared with permission

Childhood naivete and nostalgia have always grounded Kayla Mahaffey’s imaginative paintings, but today, the Chicago-based artist considers what happens in the next stage of adolescence. “My previous work centered around more innocent times and how those outside influences (good or bad) interacted with us and how sometimes we remained in a state of bliss and oblivion,” she tells Colossal. “As I get older and as the children in my work grow, I want to move into a direction of awareness and ask the question, ‘When was the turning point in our lives when we started to notice the bad things, and how did this affect us?’”

This act of self-discovery and growing awareness of the broader world are shaping Mahaffey’s new works. Continuing her use of vivid color and energetic movement, the artist has toned down the cartoon details that once created daydream-like commotion for her young subjects, and she’s instead gravitating toward weightier and more ominous themes, including the tension between life and death. Dead birds and sinister snakes appear, while one figure grasps sharp clippers and another cries large, heavy tears.


“And Away We Go,” acrylic and aerosol on linen

Mahaffey has a vast archive of sketches to be translated into acrylic and aerosol, many of which reflect the nuanced stories of her native Chicago. “My work reflects how the city directly affects our youth and how they in return react when they are cared for and also when they are not,” she says, sharing that the paintings “are just the tales and experiences, filtered through my mind and put on paper.”

She works quickly, and ideas emerge freely. Once settled on a composition, she works tirelessly until the painting is complete. “I try to slow down my process at times, but it only stunts my thought process and clouds me mentally while painting, so I just do what works for me. My mind works a bit more spontaneously, and I would like to think my pieces flourish because of that,” the artist shares.

Mahaffey will release a limited-edition sculpture with Thinkspace this week, which you can find more about on Instagram.


“Glare,” acrylic and aerosol on stacked panels, 48 x 48 x 4 inches

“Chicago’s Hope”

“Retribution,” acrylic and aerosol on stacked panels, 32 x 32 x 3 inches

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