Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What to Ask Mackenzie Thorpe? An Interview by Jason Chinnian

How could I come up with a different angle to interview one of this country’s most celebrated living artists? A man who has two of his works hanging in The Queen’s private collection. Football? From what I understood, he was not a real football fan, though some of his work relates to it and many a football stadium’s boardroom displays his work including that of Barcelona FC. What about music I thought? A subject close to my heart and also to that of this famous artist from what I had been told. What could I discuss with Mackenzie Thorpe?
Fastest Car in the World by Mackenzie Thorpe at The Acorn Gallery Pocklington York

This interview was to take place at The Acorn Gallery in Pocklington, near York. John and Diane Wass, the owners, had secured a prestigious book signing by Mackenzie and his PA presented me with the opportunity to interview him. So this is why I wanted to bring a different angle to the interview and show a different side to the man and possibly his work.


So after the book signing I managed to sit down with Mackenzie to ask him what music inspires him to paint. His answer was straight, unswerving and surprisingly quick “Bryan Ferry seems to be the most effective. But there have been other artists too. But Ferry is who I listen to most. In fact I just bought one of his latest albums and a couple of the tracks drive creative energy from my brain down my arm and to my hand. I don’t know why but it just does”.

In regards to his work as a whole Mackenzie makes a broad statement; ‘Everything I do is a self-portrait. Music inspires me but is not really reflected in my work’. He goes on to explain that “elements about him, his life experiences or his personal life are expressed on canvass every time he picks up a brush or pastel”.


His first childhood works were influenced by his Roman Catholic upbringing and were pictorial representations of Christ or Bible stories. Much of this influence is still seen in his current work including the 'Apostles' sculpture which is based on the last supper. 

The Apostles Sculpture by Mackenzie Thorpe at The Acorn Gallery Pocklington York

Mackenzie elaborates on how he has taken something that is ‘familiar to him and to billions of us throughout the world and made it is his own and something more modern. The guy walking the dog is a depiction of Judas and The Devil – The Hound of Hell. The other guys are deep in conversation and others are distracted’. But the ‘key is to make it relevant to all us so we can imagine the conversations they are having will be about football, work, their wives and home lives’.

Mackenzie’s ‘Outlaw’ series of work are also the result of a major childhood influence. He recalls how ‘all the kids in the neighbourhood would have seen the latest cowboy film or episode for a TV series and then be out playing the characters. Some kids would be in one gang, some kids would play Native Americans and other kids would be in the bad gang. We would run round on a pretend horse and call round on our friends and speak as though we were an Apache or Sioux. I’d like to think that many people can relate to this’.

The Outlaws Sculpture by Mackenzie Thorpe at The Acorn Gallery Pocklington York

His Sheep works are ‘those that depict my family. They capture the moments when I step outside the scene and look in.’ He points to one of his paintings in the gallery and recalls ‘seeing his wife with his two children and the love and protection she showed and how they were reassured by this. I wanted to capture this. I see myself as the shepherd with his staff guiding and protecting my family. But I also feel a sense of pride because my family is also partly my own creation’. These works seem to work on many different levels.
Hearts of Gold by Mackenzie Thorpe at The Acorn Gallery Pocklington York

But possibly his most personal of all the styles in his repertoire are the faceless works. These seem to cut to Mackenzie as the child and even the man sitting in front of me now. He felt a ‘faceless child growing up because of his dyslexia’ and how he was treated as a result. It was not understood in the way it is today. Even the religious implications meant he was told he ‘would not go to Heaven and it was implied that God did not love him’ and so expectations were set somewhat low. Mackenzie felt he had become invisible, hence the faceless pictures, and used this as his self-expressing theme. But ‘I still believed in Love and wanted to give and receive it. This is why I try and create colourful scenes from the back streets of the areas I knew. I wanted and needed to make these places my Paradise. I suppose I used this rejection to drive me on and prove those, who had judged me, wrong’.

This is why I do so much work with under privileged young people throughout the world. Recent workshops have been in Japan and New Orleans. I want young people to make the most of their God given gifts and reach their full potential. This is what I mean by wanting them to take ‘The Leap’. ‘I want to create an environment in my workshops that allows these young people to motivate themselves to have dreams but to also make plans to achieve those dreams. In New Orleans 10-12 year old's had their work exhibited in Mackenzie’s own exhibition. He said to one of them ‘I had to wait till I was 46 to have a painting exhibited. But here you are at 12 years of age with your work on show’. Of this he says ‘it makes me feel very proud to provide these platforms for young people all over the world’

Finally getting back to music, he also seems to be influenced by other more sombre and poignant artists and songs. When I asked him if he could name a song that represented him and his work he, as possibly expected, gave me two. The first was the very melancholic ‘I Tremble For You’ by Johnny Cash. It is a simple but strange song with a, somewhat, ambiguous meaning. But it shows Johnny Cash’s style in delivering a sometimes terrifying but heartfelt message that is understood by different generations. I can see how Mackenzie presents his work in the same way. The veiled simplicity of his work coupled with the deep personal and social issues he tackles. The second was Edith Piaf’s ‘Hymn To Love’ which though still a sombre and chilling love song and, because of her delivery, very poignant. There is the message of hope and this rings true with much of Mackenzie’s work. He is, perhaps, a living testament that life’s trials and tribulations can be overcome to achieve your full potential.

I also managed to have a quick word with John and Diane Wass to thank them for staging this prestigious book signing and to get some feedback from them about the event. Diane said they were ‘delighted that Mackenzie had chosen The Acorn as the first date on his World Tour! We've been asked by many of our clients to bring him to Pocklington and we have now made that a reality!' She goes on to say that they have had ‘so much lovely feedback from their clients who thoroughly enjoyed the evening and were thrilled to have had the chance to meet him and hear him talk in such depth about his work'. John continued by adding that ‘many happy people will receive signed Mackenzie Thorpe books in their Christmas stockings this year!' I added to that by saying I will be one of them.

Finally Mackenzie discussed one of his most recent projects. It was a specially commissioned piece for The Northern Echo, the Darlington local newspaper and part of the Newsquest Group. He was asked to paint something for the front cover of their edition to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. The inspiration hit him at 2am the morning following the request. The result was a large lonely, but beautiful poppy set against a dark and disturbing landscape with a slight dull sun trying to shine through and shed some warmth. On the poppy is a single tear. In that tear are the silhouettes of some soldiers walking wearily with rifles slung over their shoulders. He has done this work in support of Help For Heroes. Of this commission Mackenzie says ‘it was an honour and a privilege to be asked to help commemorate this event’.

So, thanks to Mackenzie Thorpe for his time, thanks to John & Diane for use of their lovely gallery and thanks to all of you for reading this article...

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