a leap of faith

Mark your calendars for October 4-5, as the globally recognized artist Mackenzie Thorpe will be visiting at Avondale Artworks.
Simple lines, fantastic skies, square sheep and children in oversized coats dragging a heart like a heavy balloon: these are the some of the hallmarks of Mackenzie Thorpe’s body of work. Today, his images are known around the world.
We caught Mackenzie Thorpe on a multi-interview day. He’d already completed one interview at 4 am in Chicago over Skype for a morning television show in Sydney, Australia, before we spoke with him. This celebrity status is a world away from his humble beginnings in working-class Northern England.
Where he grew up, Thorpe says, the options were limited: “You work in the steel works, the shipyards or in the coal mine or you work on a farm. That’s it. And you don’t have any qualifications when you leave school. Get married, have six kids, and then you die. And that’s if you’re lucky.” His father’s major ambition for him was to make enough money that he wouldn’t have to worry about paying the gas bill every month.
Mackenzie left school at 15. One of the nuns who had taught at his school told him he would never amount to anything, never get married and never get into heaven. At 20, he found himself still unemployed, and, as low as he was, these prophecies rang loudly in his ears. “I was in a very dark place,” he says. “I didn’t want to be around any more. A friend of mine said ‘why don’t you go to art school?’ I said ‘I can’t go to bloody art school. College is out for me.’” About six months went by with Thorpe still on the dole and with no prospects. Desperation drove him to do what was, in his mind, utterly impractical. He applied for art school. Despite his own objections, something in him knew: he had to be an artist. But because of dyslexia he was functionally illiterate and could barely read or write.
Seeing his application, an adviser took him aside to tell him he needed to know how to read and write properly before coming to college. But the adviser was willing to take a look at his work. He told Mackenzie to lay out his pieces while he grabbed a tea. When the adviser returned, he nearly dropped that tea. He found his office, desk, walls and floor, covered in art. Years of unemployment had not gone to waste. Thorpe had drawn nearly every day. He had a portfolio of about 2,000 works.
When asked about the inspiration for his work, he says “It’s an ongoing thing. The motifs in my work, they’re all based on my life experiences.” The oversized coat belonged to an uncle. Mackenzie Thorpe wore it through three years of his childhood. The actions of the child depicted in his works mirror his own from six to nine years old. “The kids with the big heads,” he says “they’re my children when they were born.” The signature, square-shaped sheep began as a self-portrait. His life set the frame for creating art with a feeling of heart and hope, coming out of despair.
His vast body of work and urgent desire to create art got him into school. He opened a studio where he had lived all his life, but locally found hostility in response to his work. Still, it wasn’t long before he was being covered by the news; first newspapers, then radio, then television. Today, he’s traveled around the world, designed Christmas cards for high-level politicians and has even met the Queen of England. When he started gaining success, he began giving back to children, especially those who love art. Thorpe has a foundation to help disadvantaged but creative kids (www.mackenziethorpe.net/foundation).
Exhibit previews begin October 1st and the exhibition continues through October 31st. The exhibition premieres Friday, October 4th at 6 pm with an evening VIP event that runs until 9 pm. There is another Meet the Artist reception on Saturday, October 5th, from 6 pm-9 pm as well. Mackenzie Thorpe’s special appearances are open to the public, but RSVPs are required: 384-8797 or www.avondaleartworks.com/rsvp.