By: Scott Campbell
For those that regard the capital region fine-arts scene as one populated by practitioners with conventional histories, the exception is 44-year-old Carlisle resident Chris Mackie.
The moment he speaks, you know his roots are elsewhere – England, to be precise.
So, how did a lad from West Yorkshire find his way to Cumberland County, Pennsylvania?
“I was an RAF Physical Training Instructor,” says Mackie, “and was stationed in Turkey. My wife, who is from Carlisle, was a U.S. Air Force nurse at an American base in Turkey. That’s how we met and why we now live in Carlisle.”
Stored away in a closet in his home are various pieces, finished or still in progress, that illustrate Mackie’s eclectic multi-media and content interests, influenced to a certain extent by his previous endeavors.
The boldest of them are acrylic paintings on steel that pay tribute to iconic entertainment figures.
“When I was growing up, our family used to watch the Sunday matinees on television, where I was introduced to action characters like Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen and Al Pacino,” says Mackie. “I’ve incorporated their images in some of those paintings.”
The artist’s acrylic-on-steel compositions resemble the Pop Art style of Andy Warhol. It is no accident. Warhol is the subject of one of his watercolor and ink pieces.
Mackie paints mostly with his fingers, using brushes only for a few places where a sharp edge or corner is desired. Liquitex is his preferred paint brand, which is sometimes diluted to splatter and drip across the surface, à la Jackson Pollock.
He obtains the steel from Carlisle sculptor Ron Stinson and preps the surface with an etching primer. An application of clear-coat varnish is the protective finish.
Mackie has also introduced a three-dimensional element into one of his paintings. The World is Yours features a reclining image of Al Pacino,lead character in the 1983 movie Scarface after which the video game The World is Yours is modeled.
More sanguine are Mackie’s soft pastels. They often express very personal sentiments and experiences. A number of them are homages to his late father, who set aside his art talent to support the family as a coal miner.
“I wanted to create bullet holes in the steel,” he says. “So, I contacted a friend who has several types of firearms. We set up the painting on his rural property and began to fire at it from the back, trying to create exit marks on the painting’s front surface. We employed a variety of weapons without success. Finally, an AK-47 produced the results I was looking for.”
Pacino’s character is shot dead in the movie’s climax. Mackie decided to add an appropriate emphasis to the painting.
“Yeah, that’s where I get my art skills,” admits Mackie. “Dad was ambidextrous. He could draw equally well with both hands. And he was almost impossible to beat in tennis. He’d just flip the racket from one hand to the other. Couldn’t get a passing shot by him.”
Mackie’s pastels combine high contrast and intense color to buttress his message. To produce them, he favors Unison pastels, a British product, and works on sanded paper or rag board. His father’s love and sacrifice are represented in the artist’s work by the presence of a heart-shaped form.
Often there is a single figure emerging from a dark passage into light. One inspired by his father features drooped stick-like figures filing into a coal mine for the shift’s hard and dangerous labor.
Despite their simplicity, or because of it, Mackie’s pastels are evocative.
Carlisle’s Garden Gallery on North Hanover Street is Mackie’s local representative. For more about the artist, visit fineartamerica.com/profiles/chris-mackie.