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John Warden MacKenzie: The Artist as Messenger

August 12 - September 12, 2004


John Warden MacKenzie: The Artist as Messenger continues through Sunday, September 12, 2004 at the Tyler Museum of Art on Thursday, August 12 and . The exhibition is organized by the Tyler Museum of Art.

The Tyler Museum of Art has for many years showcased art created by Texans in its galleries, often bringing new or unknown artists to the East Texas public. This tradition continues with the exhibition John Warden MacKenzie: The Artist as Messenger . The artworks were created between 2000 and the present and represent the artist's favorite subject matter: animals, landscapes, still lifes, and portraits of children. Outside of his portraits and direct studies from nature, most of MacKenzie's compositions emerge from his imagination, flowing freely onto paper and canvas with a fluid precision that results in a kaleidoscope of curves, colors, and movement. There is a joy in his art and elements with personal meanings for the artist are seen throughout several works.

MacKenzie begins his paintings by directly sketching onto the canvas with pencil, working out placement, composition, light, and shadow. He allows his hand to move freely as his imagination unfolds. Sometimes his drawing is still visible under the paint. This pentimenti is instructional in that it gives clues to how an idea developed. In other pieces, the drawing becomes the main element of a work that incorporates paint as a compositional element, such as Fisher (2004) and Old Farmhouse (2004). In these works, the drawing itself is the central element with paint and color framing out the scene.

Among MacKenzie's favorite motifs are the horse and buffalo, which appear in numerous compositions. According to the artist, the horse is the most graceful form after the human figure, and he points to the use of the animal in artwork throughout the centuries. The buffalo is a portrayal of an animal that the artist encountered while in an arroyo in the desert near his home. That day, an old female buffalo came very near to MacKenzie, and he was able to take several photographs upon which his drawings and paintings are based. A wild buffalo is rare in that part of the country and the experience has influenced the artist's work for several years since then. Flowers are used because, according to the artist, "they are wonderful things". For MacKenzie, roses have a deeper meaning, as they have been used symbolically in poetry and art. The artist speaks of one particular painting in which Christ's tears turn to roses.

MacKenzie lists Albert Pinkham Ryder, Winslow Homer, Eugene Delacroix, Gustav Klimt, and Alphonse Mucha as having heavily influenced his own artistic development and personal philosophy. It is easy to see elements of Mucha's sinewy, stylized compositions and Klimt's frontal compositions with his figures of haunting beauty woven into MacKenzie's works. MacKenzie admires the simple dedication to "art" versus social position that Ryder and Homer espoused, and he points to Delacroix's use of imagination as an important means of artistic expression and individuality.

MacKenzie's art is accessible first because of its colorful presence. In paintings that include the human figure, the subjects seem to melt into the overall composition, and faces emerge as central focal points, anchoring the compositions and creating a brooding, thoughtful, or dreamy atmosphere. In recent years, MacKenzie's greatest recognition has come for his paintings of children in and around El Paso, and there are several examples included in this exhibition.

John Warden MacKenzie was born in Albany, California in 1942. The family moved to Saudi Arabia in 1949 when MacKenzie's father went to work for the Arabian-American Oil Company. He began his artistic education in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The drawing classes he took at that time focused on subjects such as Bedouin tribal customs and animal studies. When it came time for MacKenzie to enter high school, his parents sent him to Rome, Italy, and for the next three years he remained there, taking art classes at the Roman Forum, the American Academy of Art, and at the Vatican Museum in Vatican City.

Following high school, MacKenzie attended the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature with a minor in archeology. He had hoped to major in art, but was discouraged from doing so by his father. Putting aside his desire to be an artist for many years, MacKenzie instead became a United States Customs Agent, working in Baltimore, Maryland and then in Columbus, New Mexico. He retired after twenty-nine years of service as a U. S. Customs Inspector on the U. S./Mexico border in 1996, finally able to return to art as a full time pursuit. Several years prior to retiring, MacKenzie went back to school to study watercolor and drawing at the University of Texas at El Paso.

In 1998, MacKenzie apprenticed with Texas artist William Arthur Herring. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience for MacKenzie, who credits Herring for teaching him the essentials of painting principles and composition and for encouraging him to pursue art as a serious career.

MacKenzie's works have been exhibited in several one-man and group shows in El Paso, and are also included in numerous private collections in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, Oregon, and Texas, as well as in Mexico. Other works may be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Durat Malik Abdul Azia Jidda (Saudi Arabia), the Lincoln Cultural Arts Center (El Paso), El Paso International Museum, and the Centennial Museum of the University of Texas at El Paso. Currently the artist lives and works outside El Paso in Fort Hancock, Texas with his wife Mayela.

Joanna Ross (the artist's daughter) provided assistance in making this exhibition possible including loans to the exhibition.

There will be a First Friday Art Tour in conjunction with the exhibition on September 3 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. There will be an Artist's Reception and Gallery Talk by John Warden MacKenzie on Sunday, September 12 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.


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