Early in January, Illinois weather was still unusually cold, but in our local art world there was hot air floating around. It was the announcement and circulating social media that the upcoming new MA Art Show in Urbana would be held in February.  

This exhibition really drew my attention for three main reasons: The first was my curiosity to see what this openly advertised X-rated art exhibition is all about. The second was the exhibition venue was a defunct local artists’ cooperative gallery I used to take part in when it was active. The third was among the exhibiting artists, there was a new name I had never heard of.

I couldn’t wait for the exhibition to open, so I arrived a half-hour earlier than the official opening when some artists were still working on last-minute details. I was happy to see the artwork of my old artist friends, but I spent the majority of the evening talking with Marc-Anthony Macon, whom I met for the first time.

Macon states on social media that he “is a native of rural Ohio, the son of a biochemist and a machinist sculptor, and your imaginary friend.”

Macon said he escaped in a stolen Elk Lodge hot-air balloon to New York City, where he worked for such outlets as Noggin, The-N, MTV Networks,Nickelodeon and the subversively undistributed counter-culture ‘zine, “Upsetting Sandwich.” He is the Penny Award-winning author of 19 stage plays, including “Slushy Boy and the Smoking Poem,” “Mile 0,” “Lethargic Paisley Couscous” and “The Truth Against the World.”

His work has been exhibited both domestically and internationally, including the recent Art Museum Versi group show, “Selling Fast: The Art Our Time Lusts For,” and his trademark eggs can be seen locally at the Broadway Food Hall and the Sipyard.

Macon told me he lives in a small apartment with his partner Masaharu, their cat Agent Cooper and a refrigerator with an interdimensional portal in its crisper drawer. As a tea punk, he whisks the philosophies and aesthetics of the Japanese tea ceremony and the Punk movement into aromatic, tangy vinaigrette.

I enjoyed talking to Macon and viewing his artwork on display. Influenced by the atmosphere of Valentine’s Day weekend and the theme of the exhibition, I purchased one of his paintings about Ganymede to add to my art collection.

To learn the insight of his art, I interviewed him in March. Below are some of the interesting points I learned from the interview:

Like many artists I interviewed, Macon told me his interest in art began at a young age. But unlike many artists, he told me he was terrible at studying and making art when he was an elementary and middle school student, especially under those rigid restrictions in art classes. He studied at UI and majored in play writing. After graduating in 1998, he worked at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts as an assistant.

As he did not study visual art in college, I asked when and why he started painting. His answer amused me.

One day in 2013, he was viewing Jackson Pollock’s famous abstract splat/drip painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when he overheard a young man say, “This is easy. I can paint the same.” Macon got rather angry and thought, “No! You could not do the same as Pollock did!”

To prove his point, Macon went home that evening and started doing abstract painting on old newspaper and magazine papers. The first day he did about 50 of them and got quite excited by the process. Basically, Macon scratched, taped, splatted, dripped, brushed colors or drew random lines on read newspaper or magazine pages freely. At the end of the week he had painted 300, and within a year, 3,000.

In two years when he had painted 4,000, he read an article and learned that during his whole art career, Picasso painted around 4,500 paintings. Macon thought he could paint another 500 within no time and beat Picasso, not in quality but at least in quantity. He then got his already-read New Yorker magazine subscriptions out and painted egg-image-themed abstract paintings on the inside pages.  

Soon he noticed that he had created more than 6,500 of these egg paintings and felt that then, at the very beginning of art career, he had already beaten Picasso’s life-time record (in quantity).   

I laughed and said to Macon, “You must like egg a lot” and “Do you feel you just proved what the young man said that he could do the same abstract drip painting Pollock did?”  

I could see clearly some contradictive expressions on Macon’s face. Before he said anything, I pointed out to him that Pollock explained about his abstract drip painting: “I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them. … I can control the flow of paint; there is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end.”

Macon felt like being rescued and happily said: “I was right. The young man and nobody could do the same painting Pollock did, but anyone can and should express themselves freely. I enjoyed the process of expressing myself so much and so freely. That was why I have painted so much and ended up with thousands of paintings”  

We both got excited by now, and I stepped up my interview by digging in to ask him specifically about the painting I purchased from him at the exhibition.

Macon explained to me that it is one of paintings from his Zeus and Ganymede series. As we may know and according to Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Ganymede (Greek Ganymēdēs, Latin Ganymedes or Catamitus) in Greek legend is the son of King Tros (or Laomedon). Because of his unusual beauty, he was carried off either by the gods or by Zeus, disguised as an eagle or, according to a Cretan account, by Minos, to serve as cupbearer.

In compensation, Zeus gave Ganymede’s father a stud of immortal horses (or a golden vine). The earliest forms of the myth have no erotic content, but by the 5th century BC it was believed that Ganymede’s kidnapper had a homosexual passion for him; Ganymede’s kidnapping was a popular topic on 5th-century Attic vases. The English word catamite was derived from the popular Latin form of his name. He was later identified with the constellation Aquarius.

Macon pointed out to me that when he painted this painting he wanted to express his spirit freely. Therefore, he conceptualized and composed the painting as an action or performing art both physically and spiritually rather than just a 2-D visual art.  

After interviewing him, I began to understand some of Macon’s artistic friends’ impressions about him posted on social media:

He has made both “Weird Al” Yankovic and Shirley Manson laugh. Sadly,  not at the same time.

“Marc-Anthony is a surrealist, but his work isn’t nonsense; he’s avant-garde, but he gets his laughs. He’s Ionesco with a side of Star Wars, shyly asking you for a date at the end of the world.” — Noah Diamond

“He is just your average technicolor smurfing genius, white boy wordsmith who decided to become fluent in Japanese in his 30s. There is only one Marc-Anthony Macon” — Jeremy Mason McGraw

“Marc-Anthony is a technicolor human-sized muppet; he spews creativity and artwork. Unusual and exuberant, you cannot help but love this outspoken, magical being.” — Laura Anne Welle

“Noam Chomsky and Willy Wonka had a love child, and his name is Marc-Anthony Macon” — Jonny Lang

Dr. Ian Wang is the curator of the Spurlock Museum and may be contacted by e-mail: wangyu@illinois.edu