Street Art With Desire: Mac Blackout’s abstracts and the joy they bring to Chicago
By Elisa Shoenberger
Mac Blackout’s work is like visual music. His color-popping murals can be seen throughout the streets of Chicago, bringing life to the sides of prominent buildings and communal spaces.
But in addition to his vivid murals, Mac has worked in other mediums including drawings, collages, paintings, album covers and even boomboxes. Or if you time it right, you might encounter a found art piece on a tree stump or sticking out of a trash can. Not to mention, he’s a musician, playing his saxophone daily.
Art has always been a part of his life. He came from a family of teachers; his mother Elizabeth Ann McKenzie, was an art teacher as well as an artist herself. He explained, “Art is incredibly important to humanity and our relationships with one another. It's a spiritual expression and ultimately a form of raw energy.”
In the ‘90s at the age of 16 he began making street art along with his friends, pioneering the Indianapolis graffiti art scene, he said. He was inspired by his trips to see Chicago’s graffiti scene as well as books and movies at the time like Spraycan Art and Style Wars.
When he moved to Chicago in ‘99, he started making large wheat pastes around the city, and while working as a musician he designed album covers and posters for bands in the underground scene. In the 2010s, he began painting boomboxes with his now signature shapes and colors, which he describes as “anthropomorphizing them, turning them into functional works of art.”
Mac Blackout also started to see murals popping up all over the city, and was inspired to create some himself. “I seized the opportunity and began painting large scale murals,” he told Ello. “By then, social media was becoming a useful tool which allowed me to reach more people, make connections and become a full time professional artist.”
When asked about how his visual art and music influence each other, he said, “Creation to me is one fluid energy. Music and art are very much the same but just serve different purposes as mediums. I just choose one specific medium to express a feeling or idea best.” For him, music is fast, expressive and thus great for releasing tension. On the other hand, community murals require “an extreme amount of thought, care and love,” because they’ll be permanently affixed to the walls in people’s communities.
His murals have been well-received by Chicagoans. He said, “It's been overwhelmingly positive. People are incredibly happy to have my work on their walls. I put a ton of positive energy in these creations and I think people can feel that.” Anyone walking by one of his murals can’t help but smile.
In particular, his Vote mural on the side of Chopin Theatre generated a lot of media attention. He felt he needed to do something about the 2020 fall election. “People needed a bright and beautiful reminder to believe in the power of the vote during such a confusing and horrible period of misinformation,” he explained. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, he reflected that the mural was a detour from his usual abstract style but “I don’t like a specific message usually so that’s why the ‘VOTE’ mural is kind of different... It’s basically a universal message, it’s a duty that we all have to do.”
In addition to his murals, he has also engaged in other forms of street art. He makes found art using things that he finds around the city, like mattresses, tree stumps and more. They are not art drops, he explained, “I literally just ride around on my bike and draw on trash to get exercise.”
His work has also been gaining attention outside of Chicago. He’s made murals in Indianapolis and Los Angeles and had gallery shows in Australia and LA. When Starbucks planned to open its sixth Roastery in Chicago, the company contacted him to make a collection of merchandise of his work including a mug, jacket, and even a signature boombox that were featured in the window. He said the experience was great and felt that it got a lot of eyes on his work.
Given his prolific work in the visual and musical realms, Mac’s got a lot of plans up his sleeve.
He’s got a prolific studio practice and is having a large one night solo show at Uncle Art Gallery in Chicago on August 7th. He’s also co-producing and scouring a documentary film It Was Written about the history of Chicago's graffiti scene, as well as producing another solo LP.
For Mac Blackout, street art is critical. He explained, “the best place for art is on the street, hands down. Art in a gallery is convenient to monetize and allows us to share energy in different ways privately and through historical collections. Both are great, but nothing compares to unbridled energy given to the world by a kid with a spraycan on the street.”
His work certainly puts that beautiful sense of energy into the world.