The title of Daniel McCoy Jr.’s installation is a fitting description of the artistic process. McCoy’s painting installation at MoCNA, an homage to his father and to the innocence of childhood, draws from artistic traditions in American comic book art and 20th-century Native studio painting styles. He uses several flat cloud-shaped panels as painting surfaces, and his work puts one in mind of memories and dreams. His compositions are a surreal conflation of images derived from childhood remembrances and Native folklore. “It’s based on a childhood story that wasn’t meant to be a dark, morbid story, but it’s an end-times story,” he told Pasatiempo. “My mother told me years ago that eventually the impurities and pollution in the Earth will break apart and give way to a pristine, almost utopian landscape for all animals and ancient peoples to live upon again. I looked back and started asking my elders, people who are still alive in Oklahoma, about these old stories and a lot of them have been forgotten.” The installation includes a diptych that describes what McCoy referred to as “the Western chain of being.” “It’s the hierarchy of God, angelic beings, the upper echelon of humanity, beasts, insects, and at last minerals,” he said. “My argument is that the order is backward because once we take these things from the environment, we can never replace them again.”

McCoy is Muskogee Creek and Citizen Band Potawatomi on his mother’s side and Irish on his father’s. “That’s the name McCoy. I’ve always had a foot in the traditional, mainly associated with the Native American side, but here’s this one person, my father, and he was a biker from San Francisco. He brought all this great Western culture in — psychedelic rock posters, a lot of Rick Griffin posters. Zap Comix were always lying around. So I mix that influence with the Native American artists like Jerome Tiger and Woody Crumbo and the Kiowa Five. My father was also a pinstriper. I thought the fine lines like you’d see on an Archie Blackowl painting were the same as this pinstriping you’d see on a ’51 Mercury. Of course, that wasn’t true. But I thought it was the same as a child.”

McCoy’s compositions are vibrantly colored and the influence of psychedelic art is apparent in all of the paintings in the installation. On the largest panel, he has included a depiction of the small house he grew up in, a hot rod in the yard like the ones he used to build with his father, and characters from advertisements remembered from his youth. A river runs past the house and, on one side, a large portrait of his father donning sunglasses dominates the painting. “We had a very basic house on an allotment in Eastern Oklahoma. I had all the things you’d ever need. Now, when I hear about issues of sustainability, a kind of back-to-the-earth type movement, eating better, living better, I grew up with all that. I’m very thankful for that, but at the time I didn’t want that. I wanted what I saw on television. I wanted to be like Elliott in E.T., riding my bicycle in the suburbs or something like that. I just didn’t have that.”

McCoy’s paintings have the bold, graphic quality of street art, and seem designed for a maximum visual impact. The end-times story that influenced the work and personal history reflected in it, together, seem to make The Ceaseless Quest for Utopia about past, present, and future. His trippy painting style is eye-catching, but he has a message to impart. “Even though I try to add color, a bit of childhood fun to the aesthetics of the painting, I like to have an underlying environmental message that you don’t really get right off.”