This article is from the Folio archives. It was originally published July 4, 2006.
Prolific, pretentious, impassioned, narcissistic – Jacksonville-based visual artist mactruQue (pronounced mack truck) has created a persona that both fascinates and infuriates. Though supporters say his DNA is on some of the most important evolutions in the city’s increasingly young and vibrant art scene, others can’t get past the ego of a man who calls himself a “whale in a pond” and a “canary in the mine of freedom.”
At the corner of 10th and Market streets in Jacksonville's relentlessly gentrified Springfield neighborhood stands what once was a schoolhouse. With intermittent shrieks of children at play piercing the warm, dense air, it's as though the sturdy, brick building is still exactly that — as if at any minute, a whistle will blow, cueing children to return to memorize state capitals and perfect long division.
In reality, that whistle won't sound. Long condemned, the building was renovated in 2002 into large, modern lofts. One of the more impressive spaces, the school's gymnasium, has for the past year been studio, workspace, home and, occasionally, tea party venue to ambitious multimedia auteur mactruQue. The four soaring walls of the gymnasium — now known as The Archives — are plastered from floor to ceiling with canvases and masonite boards coated by mactruQue's brush. A spiral staircase leads to a balcony furnished with empty rows of antique theater seats upholstered in weathered velveteen. And on every surface of the immense ground floor, including a stage and a piano, are traces of projects in progress. Drawings and paintings are strewn about, notebooks of songs and stories are piled high. The room is grandiose and simultaneously chaotic, a perfect setting for a mind as fecund as mactruQue's.
On the evening of Friday, May 26, The Archives were officially opened to the public for the first time. And possibly the last.
Leaving behind a dewy, dusky evening, patrons of all ages enter the glass doors on the building's north wall and are greeted by a female front desk attendant. Five-dollar donations are requested, and all are encouraged to sign a guestbook — yellowed with age, binding shot.
Fancy dress had been encouraged by the host, but predictably, attire ranges from black floor-length gowns to flip-flops and tattered cargo shorts. In the main room people mingle, self-consciously peruse the art and sip tea dispensed from metal casks. The younger set migrates to the courtyard to maintain proximity to the keg of beer and cache of red wine. A pretty girl in her mid-20s with long brown hair and a white summer dress hurriedly works her way through the crowd smiling and shaking hands. rnactruQue circulates as well, recognizable as the artist only by the paint-splattered dungarees he wears. As mac takes a seat behind his piano, cordless mic strapped to his head a well4ressed man with a zippered portfolio in his hands looks on. On the whole, few seem aware that they are witnessing a climactic moment in mac's existence in Jacksonville — the intended realization of a very specific visual and musical exhibition, as well as his artistic farewell.
The event, appropriately titled "Escape Plan, presages mac's departure and the closing of The Archives. The following week, he plans to vacate the space and depart for Europe. There, he will join his girlfriend in Switzerland and pursue a cross-continental art career. It's a grand plan — pure mactruQue. But will he actually go?
The artist swears mactruQue, pronounced mack truck, is his given name. Asked about its origins, he says only that the name was chosen by his "granola-eating hippie parents. On other occasions, however, mac has offered different answers. He told one acquaintance that his parents were big Fleetwood Mac fans. He told another his father named him after the song "Mack The Knife." And there is some question whether his parents were really hippies.
Such inconsistencies irritate some who know mac. Unlike his detailed artwork, he prefers to render his personal history in broad strokes. Some dates and details are vague, others revealed only with a promise that they be kept off-record. He does, however, detail a decidedly atypical upbringing, one that he says is at least partially responsible for his artistic inclinations and unusual thought processes.
mactruQue had what he calls an "outside-the-box" childhood. Born to what he describes as drug-free Nuevo-hippies, or back-to-the-landers, mac spent the first years of his life living on both the Canadian border and in Amish country. His family moved to Jacksonville when he was 7 years old, prompted by his parents' adoption of the Christian faith and his father's desire to attend bible college in order to become an evangelist. From there, he spent the majority of his childhood being home-schooled on a goat farm. Even mac is able to chuckle at how bucolic his story sounds.
Being immersed in Baptist dogma for the majority of his life has had a profound effect on mactruQue's religious philosophy. Though he no longer attends a church, he continues living what he sees as a spiritual, if cynical existence.
"I'm a first-century Christian," he offers. “I do not make any associations with the current state of Christianity. I don't understand it."
In fact, mac believes that most modern Christians have "lost focus" and dismisses current church teachings as "psychobabble." Though mac believes strongly in personal responsibility, he also honors his "human right to pursue my deepest desire." "That's considered pagan in many respects," he admits.
After his nontraditional schooling, mactruQue moved out of his parents' home and worked odd jobs all over town, from being a bouncer at local nightclubs to being a youth minister at a local church. His formal introduction to Jacksonville's art scene came swiftly and unexpectedly.
"I was working as an assistant to the vice president of CSX. I had my first professional writing job and was doing a variety of things like that, writing for Railroad Magazine, doing all of these weird things, and I decided I wanted to pick up the hobby of painting. Within a month I quit my job and haven't worked since."
mactruQue recognizes that he owes his initial interest in art, and the fervor with which he pursues it, to his parents, especially his father. "No one's ever seen any of my father's work, but he's probably one of the most prolific artists in the world. He's very creative," mac explains. "I'm basically just a bad rip-off of my parents' creativity"
After mactruQue and the various musicians who've accompanied him perform a set of original songs, he goes back to moving about the room. He looks subtly distressed and slightly overwhelmed. Inside, people continue to socialize. Outside, they continue to drink. Some do keg stands. Local hip-hop act Simple Complexity provides an impromptu performance that garners surprising enthusiasm from older attendees. Shortly after, the well-dressed man unzips his portfolio and studies the mysterious contents of a yellow legal pad. mac sits back down with a guitar in his lap. The noise in the room has reached a roar, and the well-dressed man calls for quiet over a megaphone. "We've been wanting to use this all night, he says with a smile. Everyone laughs, but quiets down. Another set begins.
On the brutally hot Sunday afternoon prior to launching his "Escape Plan," mactruQue lounges barefoot in a rolling office chair next to his piano. His light brown hair is a little messy, and a makeshift bed set up in a chair across the room provides a possible explanation. His smile is broad, his voice deep. He speaks with a poise and certitude often construed as arrogance. But it's difficult to imagine him conveying his ideas any other way. mac is nothing if not assured.
But he speaks of the Escape Plan with a bit more caution than most subjects, visibly unsure if his grandiose intentions will be realized. This is understandable. mactruQue's vision is very specific, his expectations high. He does not want to host a mere art show. In fact, a flier for the event promises it will be "like no art show Jacksonville has ever seen."
It's a tall order, especially when coupled with mac's desire to orchestrate every element of the experience. Patrons will view art he has made as they listen to music he's written and will perform. And although they will be guests in his house, he will demand their silence. He doesn't want a wine-and-cheese social affair, but a finely orchestrated viewing.
"They're expected to be quiet," he says bluntly. "I'll have a staff of librarians telling everyone to whisper. It's going to be very strange."
mac explains that the event will launch the next phase of what he calls his "folk mythology" a concept central to everything he creates. mactruQue views this mythology as a tapestry of his personal experiences interwoven with the city's. His view of Jacksonville is both spiritual — he calls the city "holy ground" — and deeply conspiratorial. Many of his visual themes come by way of the media. He compulsively collects newspapers in order to keep track of news stories, especially ones that mysteriously disappear from the headlines with no explanation or resolution. mac is adamant in his belief that the city's power structure controls much of what happens — not just here, but throughout the Western world — and that most of what this hierarchy accomplishes happens without scrutiny, or even general awareness.
"I've paid a lot of attention," he says cryptically. "People have a tendency to say I'm a conspiracy theorist. There are entire newspapers that I have to save because I believe that they introduce things that are important to the trained process of what they intend the future to look like. Jacksonville is one of the places where they introduce these things. That's part of the folk mythology."
One of the more recognizable pieces of this mythology, at least to anyone who frequents downtown, is the mural that adorns the side of the Burrito Gallery building on the corner of Adams and Main streets. Titled "Midnight City," the mural represents an almost ominous city scene. Exaggerated buildings curve and loom, creating a con-cave space, a sort of unwelcoming urban tunnel; deep reds and blues truly convey a feeling of night. At 30 feet x 60 feet, its size alone is intimidating.
Along with a mural mac recently completed inside the Springfield eatery and bar Nosh, at 9th and Main, which depicts a view of Main Street, and his smaller works, mac says the pieces are storyboards in a continuing tale. Though he is most often regarded as a painter, mac writes songs, movies and books, all of which tie into the themes in his paintings. His prolific pace allows him to explore myriad subject matters with very different approaches; it's difficult to describe his body of work. He recognizes Maxfield Parrish as one of his greatest influences, and much of mac's work displays a use of color reminiscent of Parrish's art — a luminosity, even a dreamlike quality. Especially in his cityscapes, it's as though a source of natural light is actually shining somewhere within the painting. Diverse as his work may be, mac views it as all of a piece.
"I like to think that I'm kind of the poster boy — or at least the art poster boy — in the sense of recognizing the nature of this city."
As mac performs a couple more songs, a change of attitude is palpable in the room. People wander in from outside; the sun has set and the bugs have come out to feed. People stand along the room's periphery, leaning against the walls, indifferent to the artwork pressed against them from head to heel.
For this set's final song, a young man sits down behind an electric piano to mac's right. Portfolio guy mentions to the audience that this young man, named Brian, is merely 15 years old. The audience reacts approvingly, and the song begins. A mix of indie rock, Southern rock, folk and popular jazz, this particular song (called "Boneshaker") demonstrates mactruQues musical sensibilities. It seems unlikely that any7 one is concerned with how the song's lyrics illu-minate his folk mythology, but everyone in the room is paying attention. Three little girls dance, trying in vain to clap in time with the music. People of all ages nod their heads to the rhythm. As Brian plays a colorful, improvisational fill on his keyboard, mactruQue's vision for the evening comes close to being realized. At least everyone is paying attention.
His tea parties, his name, his willingness to discuss his theories and projects with confidence, have earned mactruQue a reputation. "Pretentious" is the word most often used to describe him. and his undertakings. What else does he expect when he runs around calling himself a "conceptual conductor" rather than an artist? "It took me years to come up with that term," says an obviously pleased mac when asked about the term. "As a conceptual conductor, you're not tied to a specific medium, and you're taking any concept and acting as a conductor. I mean that as both a musical and an electrical standpoint. It passes through you, and it's changed."
"Narcissistic" is another word that comes up in Northeast Florida art circles when mactruQue is mentioned. Granted, there are moments when his attempts at defining himself come off as self-important or inflated (like when he describes himself as "a whale in a pond," or a "canary in the mine of freedom"). But mac appears to strive toward humility. He explains with as much reserve as he can muster that being a conceptual conductor isn't just a personal artistic endeavor, but one with citywide goals.
"I pride myself in having been genuinely involved in being the person who introduced the concepts that would create Artwalk," he says, referring to down-towns First Wednesday Artwalk. "I introduced the Art in Empty Windows' downtown, and I came up with the idea of doing the farmer's market in Hemming Plaza. There's a tendency that ... I'll throw out what tends to be a good idea. I'm an idea man in many senses."
Tony Allegretti, downtown. developer and advisor to the Mayor's Office on downtown issues, vouches for mac, saying, "If you dig' deep into the DNA of culture in this town, beneath the scene, I think you'll find his fingerprints on a lot of things."
Wearing a blue suit and a pair of cowboy boots, Jim Austin looks more Texan oil magnate than patron of the arts. He is, in fact, an investor in an oil company, but his true passion is music — specifically the music of mactruQue. Austin spent the evening of the "Escape Plan," zippered portfolio constantly in hand, doing everything from conducting the movements of the accompanying musicians to directing the cameraman there to document the entire event. Though he is acting as executive producer on a recording project for mac, Austin is more a friend than anything. The two met during mac's pre-art days: mac was working as a bouncer in a club on Jacksonville's Southside and Austin was researching the possibility of club ownership. Says Austin, "I liked mac a lot. He stood out because he had a more interesting personality than security people. He had a more introspective, thoughtful side that you don't find with mega-testosterone."
The pair's relationship has become more important now that music has become one of mac's central focuses. (“I have approximately 2,000 songs and I can play 300 of them right now," mactruQue claims.) Although Austin has been put in place to maintain the integrity of mac's art and music, he admits he doesn't get too caught up in his theatrical ambitions. "I didn't get too wrapped up in what he envisioned," says Austin of the "Escape Plan" party. Though the event may have disappointed mac, Austin is sanguine. "I'm a little bit older than him, and he has a high[er] degree of expectation. As far as I'm concerned, it was a success."
mactruQue's ex-girlfriend Katherine Metz agrees. She describes her role at "Escape Plan," running around, cheerfully greeting people, as a sort of PR person. She quickly retracts that statement saying, "But I'm not a PR person. That's what people go to school for. I don't know what the hell they're doing." Instead, Metz says, her role was to highlight mac's accomplishments.
"Sometimes things are easier when you have someone else there to go, 'See, it's worth doing.' Sometimes that's all it takes. Honestly, I think that's a big part of what I was there for in a lot of ways."
Metz describes how she and mac kind of "grew up" together. Although he is several years her senior, and her upbringing opposed his in many ways, Metz says that they shared their formative years in the "real-life school of art." Because of this mutual experience, Metz understands mac and his lofty goals better than almost anyone. She explains realistically, "He's been torn between all of these things for all of these years, and I think that if he would just focus, focus, focus on one thing, he could get to the point where he wants to be. But he won't do just one thing." In her opinion, the party "went great."
In the end, mactruQue's "Escape Plan," has become less a plan and more of a projection. His intended move to Europe was postponed for at least a couple of months. Even when he does leave, he explains that he will be returning every two months. He will spend two months here, then return to Europe for two months, and so on. He puts the plan in more mac-esque terms. "Since I'm making it a goal to advertise the city as my home base — my empire — it means that I have to remain very focused on the city. So, I'm really not leaving in that sense."
On the Monday following the "Escape Plan," mactruQue again sits sipping tea at The Archives. The space looks only slightly less cluttered than it did a week ago. Paintings still cover the walls, and notebooks are still piled on the piano. He tries to cast the best light on the event, but it's obvious that, no matter how well his music was received or how much art he sold, it didn't live up to the grand mactruQue vision.
"As far as the event, it was a good energy, it was a nice turnout," he says, "It was not the orchestrated, multimedia production that I wanted to do. It should have been more like 'Phantom of the Opera’ than a TV set."
For now it's a mystery whether any one person, even someone as dynamic as mactruQue, is capable of simultaneously pursuing visual art, music, literature and film. The expectations for "Escape Plan" are as specific and lofty as those he harbors for his artistic existence, which is, in effect, his entire life.
And he cannot resist the dramatic impulse. As he dryly discusses the party's failures and successes, he carelessly drops a wet teabag onto the floor. It lands with a soft thud.