Artist in residence - Mackenzie Thorpe

Skipping Together

Skipping Together - Credit: Archant

Mackenzie Thorpe always wanted to be an artist. He would draw constantly, even as a young child. “I am dyslexic,” he says, “and it felt like drawing and painting was the only thing I was any good at.”

No one to catch me

No one to catch me - Credit: Archant

Far from following his dreams into the world of art, Mackenzie initially worked in the shipyards of the north east, where he grew up, and also spent some time training to be a baker. “Those years were inspirational and challenging in equal amounts,” he says wistfully. “I didn’t really fit in, but there was a fantastic sense of friendship and solidarity in the face of hard industrial work. I eventually managed to get myself into art college, which presented its own very different set of challenges.”

“My background for an artist is a bit of an unlikely one,” he admits. “And for me it was about not letting the hand which life has dealt you be the deciding factor in what you choose to do. The power is within us all to change our circumstances and reach out for our dreams.”

From his “unlikely” beginnings, Mackenzie is now credited with changing the face of commercial art publishing in the UK, and has garnered a considerable following that includes both the author JK Rowling and HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Of his many pieces, he names No-One to Catch Me as one of his favourites. “It just seems to sum up the feelings I have had at various times in my life, when I really felt on my own – ‘If I jumped would there be anyone to catch me?’” he says. “I have always felt a sense of isolation, and that comes through in a lot of my work. I think this piece captures it.” Mackenzie sometimes works with young people, who he says often “find themselves in unbelievably tough situations, and that sense of aloneness which wraps around and envelops us at our lowest points, seems to be a common theme. It can touch any of us.”

Born in Middlesborough, Mackenzie then lived in Richmond, North Yorkshire and San Francisco before settling in Brighton. “We have been here 10 years now. It is a great place – the people are really friendly, it has a buzz and of course we have the best of both worlds; the sea and coastline on one side and the Downs and countryside on the other.” He says that the coastline in particular often features in his work. “Those stunning white cliffs keep popping up!”

Interestingly, Mackenzie always paints to music, and film soundtracks in particular. “I go to my studio and make sure the music I want to listen to is on. Sometimes I know already what I am going to draw, but other times I just have to stand in front of the paper and let the energy flow through me and trust that I have enough within me to allow the creativity its own energy; at those times I feel like I am just the conduit for the art, I don’t have to do much thinking. The art takes its own shape almost independently from my conscious intervention.” And when, I ask, does this process end? “The piece itself always tells me when it is finished, you know when it is complete, there is nothing else to add, nothing more to say, it is done.”

Mackenzie exhibits all over the world, and his work can be seen at