Featured Friend - Dom Mckenzie

This week we interviewed illustrator and TP neighbour Dom Mackenzie. Dom illustrates for several magazines and newspapers, teaches illustration at home and abroad, and has just finished a third exhibition of his paintings.


Q: Hello Dom Mackenzie!

DM: Hi!

Q: So I suppose my first question is ‘when did you first consider illustration as a career?’

DM: Well I was always interested in art and I knew my future would be in art. I was doing the classic thing of always drawing, always being interested in art, but in my foundation year I did a project which asked us to make a leaflet about how to make something, and my tutor said “oh, that looks like quite a good illustration,” so I thought “oh, I’ll do illustration then!” So it wasn’t a conscious decision to do illustration over anything else, but I was always interested in stuff like Tin Tin and Ralph Steadman, stuff like that.

Q: Were there other kinds of art you were drawn to?

DM: Yeah, I’ve always been interested in lots of different things; for a while I wanted to be a painter and I used to do life drawing and stuff like that…at school I liked making things, I built radios and electronic dice, etc. I liked the idea that you had a brief to work to and an endgame, so maybe with painting I don’t have the right temperament for it, though recently I’ve developed that a bit more, so I suppose I’ve kind of reversed things a little bit. But I sort of fell into illustration and looking back on my influences it was probably the right fit.

Q: Speaking of painting, you had your third exhibition Dusk and Dawn back in May at the Gallery St Martins – was it a positive experience as a whole?

DM: Yeah, absolutely. I love doing commissions for clients, but it’s nice not having someone over your shoulder saying ‘oh I don’t like the blue on that’, etc. You’re the curator and designer and you decide what you want to do. Working in a short space of time suits me generally, I’m not someone to stretch out projects over a long space of time…I like to jump between projects quickly, and while I don’t get bored of stuff quickly I like to keep things moving. It’s the same with all the books I’ve done, I like to condense the work period into a small space of time.

Q: What was the genesis for Dusk and Dawn? You’ve had two other exhibitions before it as well.

DM: I kind of wanted to expand what I was doing, so my first exhibition was an exhibition of portraits of film stars, and that came about because I’d been offered a gallery space near where I was living in Cambridge at the time at an arts cinema, and it had this lovely art deco bar area, and you see those black and white portraits of film stars – Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, all that stuff – and I thought it would be quite fun to do a modern version of that and place them up on the wall.

The first show I did at the gallery St Martins I did two years ago and it was drawings of sketches I’d made around the world when I’d been travelling. With illustration you’ve always got a subject matter, but with Dusk and Dawn it was all about colours and tones, but there was no intellectual basis for it, I just wanted to explore colour and landscapes and how they can be quite abstract. I’ve always loved Turner’s paintings where you’re aware of a kind of landscape but it’s a bit blurry round the sides, you’re not quite sure of what you’re seeing.

Q: So it’s just for the pure aesthetic pleasure of it?

DM: Yeah, exactly!

Q: And the exhibition overall was a good one?

DM: Yeah, it would have been nice to sell a few more paintings, but I think in a way doing the exhibition wasn’t about the sales…I was looking to explore and grow as an artist, but thinking about it on the other hand I wouldn’t just want t be a painter, I like having lots of different strands to my work.

Q: Thinking about your paintings then going back to your illustrations, you do have a very distinctive style – very bold colours, very thick lines – and often in your work there’s a strong sense of humour which is consistent throughout your work. So when did the ‘Dom Mackenzie’ style come together?

DM: Well I never consciously developed a style, I think some people do, it took me a few years out of college to develop the way I work now. I had a weird experience in a way because a lot of art schools – particularly when you study illustration – try and say to you ‘you’ve got to find your style’ pretty early on to get you work, but I had an interesting tutor who said ‘don’t worry about your style, you’ll find it eventually’. It was more about getting those creative foundations and growing into your style later on. There’s always been a sense of humour in my work and a sense of visual wit and metaphor which is what I normally get hired for, but I’ve never been a huge fan of art that takes itself too seriously ,even with my paintings which aren’t really trying to be funny. I’ve always admired artists like David Hockney and Alex Katz – bright, colourful work.

Q: We thoroughly enjoyed your comic strip collection Tales of the Old West sand you’ve talked about doing some more of that?

DM: Yes, in theory I’ll be doing another book, but I’ve been a victim of my own success this year so it’s all taken a bit of a backseat. But the idea is that there’ll be something out for the Glasgow Comic Fest at the end of September. So far I have two pages in my sketchbook of plans, but the idea is that it’ll be finished and done for then, but as I said before I tend to work quite ‘last minute’ so it’ll probably be all pulled together at the end!

Q: Well we look forward to it! Thanks for talking to us.