#43: Mackenzie Browning
Mackenzie Browning, a Canadian artist now living in Denver, bridges technique-heavy practices in printmaking, the book arts and a distinctive brand of architectural installation-building in his work, thanks to a diligent and engaged ethic and a willingness to learn from others. In the short time Browning has been here, he’s also nabbed a new two-year residency at RedLine and another this summer at PlatteForum — and has other big plans for the future, as you’ll learn from his answers to the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Mackenzie Browning: I am particularly inspired by process, technique and materials when it comes to creating art. I would say my creative muse is any big-box home-improvement store. The vast space and sparse number of employees allows me to wander freely, documenting products, textures and raw building materials that inspire me. I’ve had some strange looks while photographing pieces of wood on the floor, but I haven’t been kicked out yet!
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party and why?
I have always been inspired by domesticity and architecture. You can see this influence in many of my art installations and books – they often become architectural in nature. The first person I would invite to my party is artist Rachel Whiteread. I admire her most for her prolific public sculpture "House," a three-story concrete cast of the inside of an entire Victorian home in East London, a work that won her the Turner Prize in 1993. It’s an impermeable monument of domestic living, a facade of gargantuan proportions that created a polarized reaction within the surrounding community.
Secondly, I’d invite Cliff May, the California architect best known for his creation of the post-war, suburban “dream home,” the mid-century ranch design. I’d love to hear his perspective on the current mass-produced American homes and what he would inevitably change. His aim was to connect every room to the outdoors, something which I believe has been lost in modern living. Finally, I would invite Frank Lloyd Wright and pick his brain about the Usonian-American home concept in relation to today’s urban sprawl. I love inventors, pioneers and people who go against the grain and established norms. I think all three of my party guests are great examples of that pioneering spirit, and there would be no lack of passionate conversation!
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
I think the best thing about Denver’s creative community is that it’s young, growing and vibrant. It’s large enough to provide awesome opportunities to creatives, but still accessible and approachable. In the future, I’d like to see as much merit given to technique, aesthetics and materials as is given to contemporary conceptualism in the local community.
How about globally?
The best thing about the global printmaking community is how close-knit and welcoming it is. There is always a couch to surf, a studio to explore and new variations of traditional techniques to be learned. Critically speaking, printmaking is a technical medium that requires a specially equipped studio. Many printmaking-focused residencies are priced in such a way that they are inaccessible. Personally, I’m there to work, not vacation. I’d much prefer the focus to be placed on the studio and its equipment than on the accommodations.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
I’m not a huge follower of trends; I think if you just do what you love, good things will happen, and you’ll find others who equally admire it. I do enjoy the current trend of geometric art — I love seeing some thought (and math!) put into its creation. My interest in geometric and “hard edge” artworks is rooted in my fascination for architecture, formal geometric gardens and artists such as Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Anne Truitt and Agnes Martin. Geometric art is currently on-trend, but I also believe that it’s timeless and classic. It’s one of those trends that keeps returning to being relevant through every creative field.
I dislike it when people make color selections based on Pantone’s Color of the Year. There is literally an entire rainbow (and everything in between) to choose from, and I don’t like when people limit themselves by sticking to a trendy palette. Don’t get me wrong: Staying current is important to me, but following color trends too closely leads to homogenous work. The 2018 color is ultraviolet, so maybe use blue-based purples sparingly this year!
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
My favorite accomplishment as an artist is being awarded the Sue Cannon Award for Excellence in Printmaking in 2017 for my paper garden, “Barrier Green.” It was incredible to be recognized by a well-known patron of the arts and the founder of MCA Denver after just moving to Colorado. Additionally, I’m thrilled to be a new resident artist at RedLine Contemporary Art Center. This amazing organization has created endless opportunities for me and offers a welcoming sense of community to my partner and me.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
When I have the means, I would like to build a small print shop and residency program in the mountains of Colorado. Printmaking requires complete focus and attention. It’s a time-sensitive medium that constantly challenges you with its never-ending variables. Isolation in nature allows me to achieve a level of patience and concentration that is otherwise difficult in an urban environment, and I’d like to create this atmosphere for fellow printmakers to experience.
I’ve always dreamed of traveling through Japan via train, starting from the East China Sea and slowly making my way to the Sea of Okhotsk. Japan has such a rich printmaking history, especially in woodblock printing and hand-printed books, and I would love to experience that firsthand.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver: love it, and I leave it frequently! Denver is the sunniest and most friendly city I’ve ever lived in. People here genuinely enjoy life, and their outlook is infectious. It’s awesome to live in such a growing city, where I meet people from new places daily. I grew up east of Toronto, Canada, surrounded by an abundance of lakes and only a short day trip from numerous other large cities on the East Coast. My longing for large bodies of water and exploring other cities is what makes me frequently leave Denver.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
One of my favorite Colorado creatives is fellow RedLiner Becky Wareing-Steele. Her exploration of small-scale sculpture intermixed with community-building is innovative and engaging. Recently, she’s developed a miniature world inspired by off-grid, sustainable Earthship living called Utopia. This diorama exists in concept as well as physical form, and all citizens have a say in its development through ballots and community meetings. You can sign up to become a citizen of Utopia via her website. Becky’s utopian society illustrates alternatives to traditional domestic architecture and ways of living in harmony with nature.
I also have endless respect for Andrew Huffman’s colorful yarn installations and geometric paintings. His recent installations maximize the interplay between light, color and shadow in impressive and meditative ways. His art practice emphasizes quality, craftsmanship, pattern and geometry.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
First and foremost, I’m preparing for my upcoming residency at PlatteForum starting in June. I had a chance to meet the ArtLab interns that I will be working with, and their energy and spirit is exciting! My artist-book practice has taken off, and I’m preparing a number of new book designs to create in the coming year. I’m represented by Alicia Bailey of Abecedarian Gallery, and she has been influential in my book-arts adventures. As a new resident at RedLine, I have grand and laborious plans for new print-based installations and immersive experiences. Stay tuned!
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
It’s hard to name just one person, as there are so many talented creatives that I’ve met since moving to Denver just over two years ago. Art Gym Denver is an invaluable printmaking resource in our community, and I wouldn’t be printing in Colorado without them. They’ve built a thriving and positive community of creatives in a beautiful facility with affordable access to a wide range of specialized equipment. Vickie and Brian Stevinson, the founders, are some of the most humble, generous and inspiring people I’ve met in Colorado. The director of printmaking, Gregory Santos, is an incredibly talented printmaker who has been instrumental in organizing the Month of Printmaking (Mo’Print) in Colorado. His endless passion and technical prowess in screen-printing and lithography have helped make the Art Gym one of the best places to print. I’d love to see their community continue to grow, and their ongoing success in the coming year and beyond.
Mackenzie Browning’s collaborative residency with ArtLab youth at PlatteForum, 2400 Curtis Street, runs from June 4 to July 26, culminating in an exhibit that opens with a reception on July 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. and closes with another on July 26. Learn more about Browning and his work at his website and @mackbrowning on Instagram.