Artist's view: Bringing the humor and creating joy
Bringing the humor and creating joy
Originally from Ohio, Marc-Anthony Macon earned his degree in theater and rhetoric from the University of Illinois.
Story: Christine Walsh
Photos: Christine Walsh
Originally from Ohio, Marc-Anthony Macon earned his degree in theater and rhetoric from the University of Illinois. He lived in New York City for about a decade, working on children’s television, before moving back in 2004.
A chance encounter during a trip to New York’s Museum of Modern Art began his artistic journey. Another patron at the museum that day scoffed at some of the art he was seeing and declared that he could do the same thing. Macon took offense to the comment, thinking the man was way off base.
“On the flight home, I stewed about it,” Macon said.
On a mission to prove the man wrong, Macon began creating collages of magazines, stickers and duct tape en masse. The next day he made about 50 more.
“When I got to 5,000 pieces, I thought, ‘I might be an artist now,’” he said. “It’s not really anything I ever thought I was going to be.”
Macon started posting his artwork online and received an email from a Korean museum asking to exhibit his work.
“It was a very happy accident,” Macon said. “Making art every day has become the center of my life. It’s very centering.”
Macon is the tea ceremony host/coordinator at Japan House in Urbana. Macon even sits in seiza, the traditional Japanese tea stance of sitting on the floor, when creating his art. His next goal is to have his work exhibited in Japan.
“I have a lot of Japanese culture in my head,” he said, adding that he speaks enough Japanese that he could give a presentation in the language.
Ikebana, the art of flower arranging, has taught him about minimalism.
“It’s kind of what I’m trying to do with the art more,” he said. “You remove things. I used to think, ‘What can I add?’ Now I think, ‘What can I subtract?’ Less is more.”
He said although he has always had an “aesthetic eye,” he never did well in any art classes he took.
“I was not that great at following directions,” Macon said. “I would think, ‘Well yeah, but you could do it this way too.’”
Among those Macon admires are German Dada artists Max Ernst and Hannah Hoch, who combined subjects in unexpected ways.
When Macon looks at art, he asks himself, “Does it look like they had fun when they were doing it?”
Another of Macon’s favorites is Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, known for her self-portraits.
“I love her use of color, the way she seems to make color depending on what it’s contrasting with,” Macon said. “Her portraits are almost stylized. I really dig her work a lot. I don’t feel like I have talent, but I take a lot of inspiration from the way they lived their lives.”
Macon drew inspiration from an article he read about a ceramics teacher who divided her class into two groups. One was told to make as many pots as time allowed, and the other was told to create the perfect pot. At the end of the course, the pots were ordered based on quality, and all the best pots were made by students in the first group.
“I kind of follow that philosophy,” he said.
Macon produces up to about 120 pieces of art per week and figures that he has made 500 fewer pieces of art in his life than Picasso.
You may have beat me in quality, Pablo, but I’ll beat you in quantity, and you’re dead and can’t do anything about it,” Macon laughed.
Macon is most known for his pieces in which he draws eggs on pages of The New Yorker. Most recently he has been putting word bubbles on pictures for a humorous effect.
“It’s finding ways to create the things you wouldn’t normally find together,” he said. “I’ve tried my best to stay 12; in a lot of ways, kids are my people. It is a very playful, snickering sense of humor a lot of kids have.”
Some of Macon’s most cherished memories are of sitting around making fun of commercials with his family when he was growing up.
“Laughter was a major theme in my household,” he said.
Macon titles all of his work, usually with whatever pops into his head, for reference and cataloging.
“It’s a big thing for me,” he said. “I have a degree in rhetoric, so I like words.”
Macon is always happy to see his artwork hanging in people’s homes.
“Bathrooms seem to be a popular place for them,” he said with a grin.
Macon enjoys collaborating with other local artists. He and another collage artist he had never met before teamed up for an exhibition at Urbana’s Amara Yoga.
“We got to be great friends after that,” Macon said.
Macon’s art has been exhibited at Caffe Paradiso, [co][lab] and the Independent Media Center in Urbana. A couple of bands have used Macon’s artwork on their album covers.
“Whatever I’m thinking about that day, that’s what I’m going to paint,” he said. “Other times I might have a specific idea I’m going for.”
Macon’s work is under creative commons license, in which his work can be freely distributed as long as he is given credit for it. The London Fortean Society, a group that discusses paranormal phenomena, used a portrait that Macon did of Jack Parsons, a rocket engineer and occultist.
Macon likes the relationship between the artist and the person viewing the art, who has “something special they can bring to a piece.”
“Once I’ve made it, and it’s hanging on the wall, it’s kind of like your child has grown up,” he said. “You check in on them and make sure they’re OK, but you can’t control the way they are anymore.”
Friends and family often give Macon materials; he has shelves full of magazines and old books. One of his favorites is a series of books called “Woman Alive” that has a lot of pictures of people doing ordinary daily things. He has created numerous pieces by adding strangeness to the pictures and is disappointed that he’s almost out of them.
Macon’s father had an interest in UFOs and gave him a collection of issues of Omni, a science-fiction magazine. Another favorite source has been the IDEA Store in Champaign, where he has bought stickers by the pound.
“I just let the material dictate,” he said.
Macon is always working on multiple pieces at once. He usually decides a piece is done when he likes it or it makes him laugh. He has been posting progress pictures on Instagram and now uses the response to those pictures to help him decide when a piece is complete.
Macon believes people like the “non-thinking aspect” of his art.
“Just looking at my stuff, right away you can see it is stylized, not intentional, free spirited and fun,” he said.