Spencer McQueen's art is a sensory experience

May 11, 2018

Spencer McQueen says looking at his art isn’t enough. He wants you to feel his paintings.

“It’s just this little extra ability that you can give someone to connect with you and the things that you created,” he says.


Spencer McQueen is a barista at BLK MRKT coffee shop in Traverse City. When he's not making beverages, he unwinds by creating contemporary art.
Credit Dan Wanschura

When he's not working as a barista at BLK MRKT coffee shop in Traverse City, Spencer spends time in a small studio, painting. Today, he's painting on a big canvas — it's about five feet tall by five feet wide. There's a couple of layers of canvas stretched over each other with a jagged, uneven seam across the middle. It's rough, and gives the painting texture.

“I want people to see all of these random little things that are like all over here," Spencer says, pointing to the canvas. "Like where the canvas just broke apart and I went with it because that’s more the art for me than anything else.”

Spencer says a tactile feel is something he’s been drawn to in his art. In fact, he wants people to get close and actually touch his work if they want to.

Spencer's painting tends to be monochromatic. On this piece, he used six different shades of black spray paint to get the depth he wanted.
Credit Dan Wanschura

“Every time you go to a museum – like the last time I went to the D.I.A. [Detroit Institute of Arts] – I get close to a piece, and there’s this very loud God-like voice that comes over and says, ‘Please step back from the art,’" he says. "And I hated that.”

He hated it because he wasn’t allowed a full sensory experience. That made him want his art to be more hands-on, like the painting he’s currently working on.

“The two different layers that I have here, once this is all done, I want someone to run their fingers across and feel that layer," says Spencer. "Because during this process myself, I did that, and that’s what made me most excited about this — was really enjoying the frayed texture of this canvas.”

Like most young kids, Spencer McQueen grew up drawing and painting all the time. But unlike a lot of kids, he never stopped. He always had a sketchbook and enrolled in every art class he could throughout high school. He says his dad would get mad at him for creating collages out of magazines and then gluing and taping them on the walls.

“And it just kept getting worse and worse as I got older,” he says.

These days, Spencer’s paintings are mostly monochromatic — different shades of black and white — very contemporary and abstract. He says he doesn’t respond well to color. One of the pieces in his studio is entirely black. He used six different shades of black spray paint to get the depth that seemed right. 

Spencer McQueen prepares a piece of art for "Here We Are" – a contemporary art show that opens in Traverse City on May 11th.
Credit Dan Wanschura

Spencer knows his art can be intimidating to some, but he's okay with that. He says it forces viewers to think more about the reated work and put themselves in the artist’s place.

“My art for me is not necessarily making people feel uneasy but like evoking just a very powerful feeling of, ‘I don’t know what is going on here and I want to figure it out,’" he says. "And when I feel like that just here working on it then it’s a certain level of accomplishment.”

Spencer McQueen is a featured artist in “Here We Are” – a new contemporary art exhibit at the ECCO Event Space in Traverse City. The show opens tonight at 6p.m. and runs through June 3rd.