Interview with Alexis Anne Mackenzie

April 28, 2014
Alexis Anne Mackenzie

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where do you live and what’s it like?
I live in San Francisco, it’s beautiful and cold. I live near the park, in a quiet neighborhood which isn’t overrun with tourists or anything but is close to everything. I love San Francisco for the cool foggy weather and sunny days, the parks, the food, the people, the architecture, the abundant and varied plant life everywhere. This month marks ten years I’ve lived here and this town has been so good to me. It’s a place that gives back what you put into it and it is always nice to be here.

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what is your art studio and working environment like? when do you typically clock in?

My studio is in the front room of my apartment, what would be the living room otherwise. I never really clock out… when I’m home I’m usually working. I’ve never had a studio outside my apartment, actually, even when I was in school; I’m hoping to try that sometime in the future. In terms of the studio itself – it’s a lovely, sunny room (although I usually work at night) full of plants – succulents and orchids mostly, everything else dies, my thumb isn’t too green – and books and art. It’s never neat, always cluttered with paper cuttings trailing everywhere and stacks of books falling over every few feet. I try to get organized once in a while but it always just comes apart again once I sit down to work.

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when did you start making art? did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
Yeah, I don’t think it ever occurred to me I might want to do anything else, or that being an artist would be hard, or that I might not be good at it. It was just, this is what I’m supposed to do. The only thing I wasn’t sure about what was what kind of art exactly – I mean, I started out drawing, like everyone does for the most part. Then it was watercolors, then collage, then photography… I spent a long time just finding the best way to make work I really loved, and I always came back to collage.

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when did you start making collage? you have such precision, how do you do that?
I started collaging in high school, I was taking an art class at the technical center in town and my teacher had us all keep visual journals on the side. I started collaging in those and discovered it came really naturally to me, and that I enjoyed trying new things with it a lot. It’s never stopped being something I have new ideas for and want to try something different with. The precision I think comes from just being really driven to be good, and to show that collage is something that can be hard, and should be taken seriously. The process of working is really escapist and meditative for me – the more focused I am on precision, the more lost in thought I can get, and I love that about it.

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what is inspiring you these days?
Oh man, I don’t even know. I’ve never been good at looking at other artists’ work and retaining information about what I see – names of art or shows or that kind of thing – unless I make an effort to write it down. I used to write it all down. But I’m sort of oblivious and operate in a bubble most of the time. Right now I’m deep in a heavy work phase so I’m not even looking at much of anything besides what I’m trying to do. My inspiration has always mostly come from the source material I’m working with – at least it used to, I’m not even sure anymore since I’ve moved further and further into abstract work. I’m trying to find a happy union between my love of vintage botanical imagery and my love of abstract, minimalist work. I think I’m getting closer to it. So I guess it’s about color and texture and shapes and whatever feeling I get from the results of what I’m doing to manipulate the images. I need to get out more, though.

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Last good film you saw?
Well, it’s not a film exactly, but everyone should watch Vic & Bob’s House of Fools, it’s weird and hilarious.

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you are moving? to another country to boot. are you worried about leaving your art community behind?
Yes! I’m moving to Glasgow sometime in the near future. It’s exciting. I do have some concerns about leaving behind the community I’ve found here in San Francisco, and my American “base” I guess you’d call it, but I have a good feeling about being based in Europe. I’ve had a couple shows there and I think that living there, I’ll be able to do some things that I haven’t necessarily been able to accomplish living in SF. I’m also curious to discover how living in a place which is mostly rainy and grey is going to affect my work. I don’t know, I like a challenge and I like change and growth, and I feel the potential for all of that in Glasgow. I don’t think I’ll be leaving everything behind, my hope is that people will still be interested in seeing whatever I do next, regardless of where I’m doing it, and that this move will be an expansion rather than a loss.

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there’s been a flurry of recent articles about the gentrification of san francisco. thoughts?
Yeah… sometimes it feels like that’s all anyone here talks about anymore. I can get a little riled up about it – a lot of the evictions are heartless, the profiteering is heartless, people are definitely getting squeezed out and bad things are happening. But good things are happening too, I guess – I mean, a city having too much money is a better problem than not having enough, it’s just that the influx of money seems to be hurting the people who need it the most. I don’t think this problem is unique to SF these days. Regardless of how anyone feels about any of it, it’s happening, and it makes me sad that everything feels so negative. SF is a beautiful city with so much to offer, and it’s always been a gold-rush town. People come here to make their mark and that’s what’s always happened here. No one should be surprised by what’s going on. But it’s a bummer that longstanding communities are getting trampled so hard by these newcomers and that the city isn’t doing more to protect them in addition to courting the growth. It’s just all happening really fast.

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do you have any favorite quotes or mottos?
I like “gold is where you find it” and “health is wealth”. Just themes of appreciation really. Most of us are far luckier than we realize on a day to day basis.

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if you could have any superpower what would it be?
I wouldn’t mind being able to fly. It always feels so easy and convenient and nice in dreams. Like I just forgot how to do it while I was awake. Always so bummed to wake up and realize I can’t actually just lift off.

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what is your favorite spot in the world right now?
Right now I’m trying to appreciate being in San Francisco as much as possible, because I know I’m leaving, and I know I’ll miss it. One of my favorite things to do is ride my bike to the beach and back. It’s not a spot exactly, but it feels like one.

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where do you feel at home?
A few places… I feel at home when I’m in Glasgow and it’s always hard to leave – but when I get back to San Francisco I feel fine again, because SF is also home. I feel at home at my parents’ place in Vermont and my sister’s place in Michigan. I guess I feel at home whenever I’m with my loved ones.

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what are you currently working on?
I just finished up a solo exhibition, “Synthesis”, which is currently on view at Eleanor Harwood Gallery here in San Francisco (http://www.eleanorharwood.com/Eleanor_Harwood_Gallery/Alexis_Anne_Mackenzie_Synthesis.html). That’s on view through May 10th. Right now I’m working on a solo exhibition which will open at Ampersand Gallery in Portland (http://www.ampersandgallerypdx.com/). I think the show is going to called “Expanse”… Just making the work at the moment and feeling it all out.

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do you envision a positive future or do you think we are all fucked? apocalypse theories?
I think some of us, a lot of us, are definitely fucked, but I think humanity has had it coming anyway. I try not to worry about it. I think I’d rather have a natural (if global warming can be called natural) apocalypse than a world war. But if we’re fighting world wars in the future over resources we squander all the time right now, maybe that’s just mother nature’s way of turning us on ourselves. I think everything balances out in the end. Things are obviously unsustainable as is but I think most people feel like the machinery that’s in motion is too big to stop. Solutions are possible but we tie our own hands by failing to agree on anything. We’re all just going to have to deal with whatever happens as it comes.

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what is your spirit animal?
I keep having dreams lately where I’m being guided or carried places by dogs. They are always good dreams; I feel concern and appreciation for the dog, but the dog is there to help me, and always gets me where I need to go. In the last one it was a coyote carrying me on its back and when we reached our destination it let me hug it. It was the warmest, most loving hug. The coyote was my friend. So I feel like should say, a dog is my spirit animal. Canines, at least.

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what astrological sign are you? do you relate to it? if yes, how?
I’m an Aries. I relate to it more than I used to growing up. I’ve always been easygoing but as I’ve grown older I’ve realized I’m pretty stubborn too. And I’m driven when it comes to my work. I wouldn’t say I’m a full-blooded Aries, but, I was born on the cusp, maybe that dilutes the effects a bit.

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who are some of your favorite artists currently?
heidi norton, jacob tillman, russell tyler, laura swanson, daniel arnold

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where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Living in Glasgow, making art… I’m planning to start working with textiles, producing my own line of fabrics and wallpapers. So hopefully that takes off and I’ll be doing that as well as my studio practice.

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what would be your last meal before execution?
Sushi, fruit, chocolate, and pistachios, with some really nice gin.

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