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Who Is the Artist Kayla Mahaffey?

Who Is the Artist Kayla Mahaffey?

Kayla Mahaffey knows that living in our world can be challenging. And how we experience the world as a child compared to adulthood is drastically different. 

As we grow, our worldview changes, and more often than not, it’s our experiences that dictate our outlook. Mahaffey’s art seeks to inspire the viewer to create a better community, sometimes simply by holding on to each other.

Today, we’re examining how this talented artist chose to use her art to bring this hope to reality.

Let’s take a look!

The Story of Kayla Mahaffey

Kayla Mahaffey was born on the south side of Chicago in 1994. Growing up, she loved all things art. Whether it was book illustrations or art museums, the artist in her wanted to paint. So she practiced and practiced to reach this goal. In high school, the art programs became more advanced, and Kayla was lucky to have a teacher who pushed her to do better. 

Mahaffey attended art college for two years before dropping out. While in college, she received invitations via social media to show her work. After the show, the gallery continued to show her work. After this, Mahaffey started to build a social media following as people began to recognize her art. This exposure opened opportunities for more gallery shows.

What is Kayla Mahaffey’s Art Style?

Mahaffey is an American post-war and contemporary artist with a talent for combining childhood with adult experiences. Her art has an element that hides behind a cartoony, fantasy aspect, projecting life through a child’s eyes.

The artist also integrates her hometown of Chicago into her art, paying respect to its humble beginnings and hard-working attitude. Kayla sees modern society as a voice of the people and the future. 

As a result, she feels her work is a guide that represents time and fashion, showing the history of a specific period through our eyes. Mahaffey brings color, vibrancy, and stimulation to her work, giving us a quick lesson or an uplifted spirit with each piece.

Working mainly with acrylics on surfaces like aluminum and gessoed wooden panels, Kaya loves the buttery consistency and saturated hues. Additionally, the artist is exploring the use of spray paint in her art.

A painting of a young black boy against a cartoon-style background. He's holding an over-sized mallet and there are holes in the ground with various characters popping out of them.

What Inspires Kayla Mahaffey’s Art?

Kayla’s artistic journey took inspiration from cartoons she enjoyed as a child. She loves the animation process and noticed how a deeper story could be told through colorful characters and not take away from the message. That message for Kayla is understanding right from wrong, which taught her to keep morality in mind.

Growing up in Chicago was a significant inspiration for Mahaffey. The difficulties of a black female living on the south side of Chicago gave her the desire to show the opposing beauty a neighborhood like the South Side has to offer. 

Mahaffey explores the inner thoughts and personal issues that so often go unheard. With a combination of whimsy and realism, she creates art reflecting the struggle and support she sees within her community.

Ultimately her mother influenced her career by showing her that every path could be an easy one. She also showed Kayla that determination and how you decide to walk that path can determine the entire journey.

Did Kayla Mahaffey Paint a Mural?

In 2020 Mahaffey created a mural on the wall of the True Life Foundation Arts and Community Center in Calumet Heights. The work entitled Light the Spark uses whimsy and realism to depict the hopes and dreams of two children.

Kayla seeks to show a community coming together and to inspire people to think about working together and helping one another. 

To celebrate the new mural, a community event took place on the sidewalk of the art and community center. Community members were invited to participate, with free food and a goodie bag for kids that included science kits donated by, My Block – My Hood – My City and the Museum of Science and Industry.

What Are Some of Kayla Mahaffey’s Art Pieces?

Kayla Mahaffey’s art is a direct view of childhood and innocence set against themes of adulthood. Her colorful art depicts Black children caught in cartoon-like escapades that speak of youth, fantasy, and creativity. 

It serves as a guide to bring hope to our daily lives with gratitude for each moment. She seeks to contrast the mindset of an adult with the imagination and fresh eyes of a child.

Forever Young

Created for the Restless II Group Show in 2018, Forever Young was painted in acrylic on a wooden skateboard deck. The piece portrays an older black man with a bandaid on his nose and many missing teeth. 

Kayla filled the board with childhood images such as video games, squirt guns, candy, and amorphous cartoon figures. The words Forever Young sandwich the image.

Child’s Play

This piece has an appropriate name since playing children is a signature theme for Kayla. She created Child’s Play in 2019 on an aluminum panel with acrylic paints. 

The artwork features a young black girl who seems to be questioning the meaning of the imagery surrounding her. She’s wearing a cartoon pig’s head, and the amorphous cartoons around her have faces that bring to mind moral choices and questions about how to determine the best path.

Strange Fruit

A painting of a black girl with large pink roses in her hair. She's standing on a ladder picking fruit. The fruit has various faces.

Strange Fruit is an homage to jazz singer Billie Holiday from Kayla’s solo exhibition at the ThinkSpace Project in Los Angeles. Created for her solo show, Remember the Time, is painted in acrylic on canvas.

The image shows a black girl with large pink roses in her hair. She’s wearing a sundress and standing on a ladder picking apples. The low-hanging fruit has faces that appear to be singing the blues. The girl is wearing gloves with a purple ribbon around her arm. 

Where Can I See Kayla Mahaffey’s Art?

Kayla Mahaffey’s art has been featured at numerous galleries and museums, such as Volery Gallery. The best place we’ve found to view Kayla’s sold art is her website, Additionally, her Instagram page, @kaylamay_art, is an excellent place to see the artist’s evolution.

Vertical Gallery

You can also find Mahaffey’s work at the Vertical Gallery, Chicago’s premier urban-contemporary art gallery. 

Located in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood and established in 2013, it focuses on work influenced by street art, graffiti, pop culture, graphic design, and illustration. The gallery has set itself apart with consistent programming of emerging and established artists, both local and international. 

Taking Us Back to Our Childhood

Summer days, children playing, neighborly love, and peace highlight Mahaffey’s art. 

The nostalgia of her work is whimsical and offers an escape from the chaos of reality with the sweet naivety of being a child.

Kayla’s art breathes new life into simple characters and layered stories. She elevates these details within her work, reminding us that cartoons were once an essential escape during our early years. The artist inspires us to return to that state, providing respite when surrounded by a world that has become increasingly difficult.

Outside Folk Gallery

You can explore folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans. 

We’ll also be offering pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow us to discover the where and when!

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