Long before Mac Blackout started playing in Chicago rock bands he spent his days as a graffiti writer in Indiana. “There wasn’t any graffiti in Indianapolis, where I was at, so we kind of kicked that off and were doing it back there,” Mac says. The Mac Blackout Band and Mickey front man started with graffiti in 1993, but his wall writing tapered off after he moved to Chicago and turned his focus to music. Since he kicked things off with the Functional Blackouts back in 2001, that has consumed a lot of his creative endeavors, but in the past few years he’s gravitated back toward visual art. In the spring Mac found inspiration for a new artistic venture in a tree stump.
“I was doing an art show at Saki and saw there was a stump outside, and I was like, ‘Oh, that would be a great way to do some street art again,'” Mac says. He’d soon brightened up the stump outside of the Logan Square record store with a face—a candy-colored, psychedelic visage of a smiling monster with an oversize nose covered in warts, eyes the size of tea cups, and a gigantic tongue poking out of a mouth with a handful of fanglike teeth. Mac placed his first name right next to the creature’s left eye, in a space small enough that the average pedestrian might miss it.
Mac’s new street art has drawn people’s attention, and he says he’s gotten some commissions “here and there” since debuting the project. He’s painted about 15 stumps so far this summer, placing them throughout Logan Square and Wicker Park, and he’s got more in the works.
The stumps may be new, but Mac’s been trying his whimsical style of visual art on other surfaces. “I do a lot of boombox art—anthropomorphic boombox art, where I bring a monster or creature out of a boombox,” Mac says. He first started painting boomboxes (“doomboxes,” he sometimes calls them) on occasion in the mid-aughts, but a few years ago he started crafting those pieces with a higher frequency—and selling them too.
Mac has been branching out with bigger canvases as well. “I had a mural in Bedford, Indiana—for the city,” he says. Mac’s painting covers the east wall of the office building that holds the city’s paper, the Times-Mail. Side views of regal stone eagles frame Mac’s bold, animated mural, which squeezes in images of a space shuttle, a pastoral view of a barn from afar, and the American flag; Mac toned down his psychedelic style for the piece, but he did place a big rainbow right in the center. “That [mural] paid well for the summer, so I didn’t have to struggle as much,” he says.
The money from the mural helped Mac go on his stump-art sabbatical, but he’s hoping to put more attention into bigger pieces. “I really just want to start doing real big murals,” he says. “I have a lot of big plans for murals and stuff—large walls and whatnot. It’s just about getting a wall and doing it.” The stumps are much more of a fun side project. “I just saw the stumps as a way to do some street art that wouldn’t be bothering anybody, it would only bring smiles to people,” Mac says. “I wanted to do something positive too—to make kids smile, make everybody feel good.”
Mac is still keeping busy with music. Nebraska label Rainy Road Records will release a new Mac Blackout Band EP, City Lights, on Cassette Store Day in October; Mac Blackout Band is writing a new album too, which the group is set to record next month.