Friday, May 6, 2011

Autistic artist puts a new spin on creativity

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Sexy people are apple pies." "One, two, tin ..." "Acne, pimp, jerk ..."

The unlikely grouping and categorizing of words, phrases and numbers in the new exhibition "They Are Full of Holy Nonsense" range from the whimsical to the philosophical to the seemingly nonsensical.

In fact, decoding the multiple layers of meaning in autistic artist John Patrick McKenzie's show and understanding his unique, free-association thought process is all part of the fun. From a distance, his all-typographic drawings read not as words, but as abstract, illustrative patterns. On a second, closer glance, the images define themselves as a random mix of words and numbers hand-drawn in McKenzie's signature calligraphic style (i.e., the loops in the letterforms are filled in with thick marker). But on even closer inspection, a definite organization and system make up his stream-of-consciousness writings.

"For McKenzie, communicating is a challenge socially," explains Eric Larson, curator of "They Are Full of Holy Nonsense," who has worked with McKenzie since 2005. "So his work is really about communicating with people - the things he hears, the things he thinks - that all gets filtered through his brain and comes out in the work. But it's also his way of playing, with words and all these concepts.

"The autism is probably an aspect of how McKenzie categorizes things and why he's into dates or creating these systems and methodologies."

In a recent work, McKenzie explores the concept of sex in a black-and-white piece composed of words associated around the sensual theme. It includes such terms as "Soles, heels, feet, toes, arches, ears, eyes, neck, kiss, cheeks, chest ..."

Less obvious connections include McKenzie's fascination with pop culture characters and creating playful phrases joining individuals with the most unlikely of sorts. For example, Joyce DeWitt, most famous for her role as Janet Wood on the sitcom "Three's Company," is one star who particularly interests McKenzie. As does Jesus Christ. One such piece states, "Joyce Anne DeWitt likes two thousand and twelve the end of the world." Another reads, "Jesus Christ likes American cars."

The Philippine-born McKenzie has been creating his original artwork at Creativity Explored since 1989. The exhibit, McKenzie's first solo show at Creativity Explored, features his cryptic one-liners, wordplays, math equations (based on years and birthdays) and 3-D drawings, as well as recent atypical works created on found materials such as wood blocks and paint chips.

Although McKenzie prefers to work in black and white, he does, on occasion, create with different colors and materials. In a newer work, "John Patrick McKenzie Likes Cumulus Clouds," the artist hand-created a near replica of an offset printing machine's color pattern using red and blue pen - giving it an almost 3-D effect.

"But it's extraordinary because McKenzie did it all by hand," Larson says. "If you squint or if you have 3-D glasses you can read what he wrote."

"There's still always a mystery to the work," Larson adds. "I don't have a key to how it all goes together. And I think that's what keeps people (and myself) so interested in it."

Through June 22. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Wed., Fri.; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thurs.; 1-6 p.m. Sat. Creativity Explored, 3245 16th St., S.F. (415) 863-2108.

McKenzie's work is also on view Wed.-Sept. 25 at the Berkeley Art Museum, part of the show "Create." 2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley.