Everyone loves an old-fashioned “local mutant makes good” story. It’s the kind of feel-good journalism that reaffirms your faith in God and country—and in this case, in a shambolic artist of humble Hoosier stock who’s found a way to turn his chaotic responses to a world gone sterile into provocative and original street art, album covers, paintings, music, and more.
It almost brings a red, white, and blue tear to your eye. Well, it does to my sappy-ass peepers anyway, because this story concerns an old friend of mine, Mac Blackout (born Mark Dunihue McKenzie). His new book, Madman’s Eye: The Art of Mac Blackout, is a staggering, inspirational collection of his prolific output—beginning with his 90s stint as a graffiti artist in Indianapolis, continuing through his Chicago years as insensé provocateur in the underground garage-punk scene, and ending today, as his work continues to grow in quality and quantity.
This Friday evening, Galerie F in Logan Square hosts a release party for Madman’s Eye (published by HoZac Books) in conjunction with a solo exhibit of Blackout’s work. Maybe you knew him 15 years ago, or maybe you just met him recently, or maybe all you remember is that time his band Mickey opened for Wild Flag at Subterranean in 2011 and he bashed the microphone into his face and bled all over your sweetie (to mention just one of his infamous antics). Whatever the case, if you take the time to see what he’s accomplished in the various phases of his creative life, what emerges from the mayhem is the strong sense that he’s known what the hell he was doing all along.
In the 16 years I’ve known Mac Blackout, many did have their doubts that he knew what the hell he was doing, creatively or otherwise—especially if they only saw him at shows, where he often got drunk enough that the bouncers decided he needed a little time out. In the interests of full disclosure (assuming that writing a piece about a dear friend isn’t already enough to have the chain-smoking Commish of the Journalism Police demanding my badge and gun), for a few years in the early 2000s we played music together in a toe-tapping quintet called Functional Blackouts. Because I was around him from his mid-20s on, I believed I could see a battle raging inside him (and outside him), as it so often does with young creative types.
He seemed locked in a tug-of-war: to create or to destroy, to channel spite and love and frustration and joy into self-expression or into a belligerent bender that got him kicked out of a bar. Was he going to be a real-deal artist, or just another urban jerkoff whose late-teen art-school ambitions dead-end in the ho-hum hedonism of coked-out service-industry lifers?
Mac Blackout made the right choice, and Madman’s Eye is the proof. It’s also a testament to the great things that can happen if you stick to your artistic vision without compromise.
Now that we all have to deal every day with dogshit government, vapid narcissists and brainless ideologues of all stripes, and endless empty screaming from within thumbs-up Internet bliss-cocoons, Madman’s Eye: The Art of Mac Blackout is especially welcome. It shows what can happen if you think and feel for yourself and follow your glitter-glam trash muse no matter where she takes you.