Psychic Melt: The Art of Alexandra Mackenzie

Toronto's Alexandra Mackenzie makes art featuring noodle faces, girls with guns, wolves, galaxies, reptiles, crystals, and more.

Alexandra Mackenzie makes pretty trippy art.

She used to play in the band Dentata and she has been in a group show with Grimes. Her art looks like a mystical, sci-fi comic book meets a psychedelic Disneyland with a retro Wiccan twist. Faces are made of noodles, girls are holding guns, then there’s all the wolves, galaxies, reptiles, crystals… it gets weirder. My favourite drawing Pepto Bismol has a witch with a third eye standing with an army of girls whose brainwaves create a storm above them with quartz sticking out from their leader’s third eye, like sugar cane swords. All in all, it’s a mouthful.

Mackenzie is a Toronto-based artist and musician who graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design. She plays in Pachamama with Brandon Valdivia from Picastro and is gaining momentum with her new solo project, Petra Glynt. You can catch her play in August at this experimental, campground-friendly festival called Electric Eclectics in Meaford, Ontario. She will also be playing a show on June 6 at PHI Center in Montreal, as part of a festival curated by Renata Morales (Slim Twig and U.S. Girls are playing, too). Mackenzie is playing NXNE at Creatures Creating in Toronto, which will be put together by Wavelength on June 15.

That’s a lot of stuff. But then again, just look at her drawings. They’re more than just eye candy. Mackenzie is mother earth’s biggest groupie, with advocacy drawings that are all about anti-deforestation (I’ve never heard anyone talk about cell phones like she does). While her work is a telepathic universe with clairvoyant characters and the odd hint of Alex Grey, there is often a tangible meaning beyond just mushrooms and arting-out.

VICE:How did your drawings begin when you were young?
Mackenzie: I suppose I was always super crafty and took all art-related things pretty seriously. I was a very hyper active kid and arting-out seemed to be one of the few states where I could chill out. I gave drawing a lot of extra patience—I strongly believed that I could represent something exactly if I spent the time. I think I took it as a challenge and my family really encouraged the artistic parts of me. I would always overextend myself with artistic side of school projects before the academic side. I guess I had my priorities all figured out, [laughs].

The Open Fire drawing. It feels to me like a comment on the environment. What's the story behind the girl with the gun? (Is that flag from anywhere?)
Yes definitely. I guess without being overly militant with the imagery, it is a message of resistance against deforestation and clear-cutting. Open Fire is a play on the open use of a gun as resistance imagery against the logging method of burning the land for the acquisition of the trees, leaving behind dead land, killing the life that was there and the prospect of new life, for profit. This is the first of more to come so I find this drawing to be a bit shy. I drew a woman and often choose to draw women because it is the most natural figure to draw, being a woman myself, but she is masked because she represents my rage coupled with the anonymity of the many individuals who have stood against environmental injustice. The flag doesn’t represent any specific iconography, but more or less suggests the unification of people through common beliefs—it is like a call to action.

Prophetic Headacheseems to suggest the concept of the third eye, which is closely associated with mysticism and clairvoyance (though it varies by different cultures). What is your relationship to psychic phenomena?
Prophetic Headacheis an inside joke with myself—which I’ve learned isn’t necessarily fair for everyone else. I also call it P.H. Levels referring to levels of acidity. When I was doing my thesis year at OCAD, I was naively reading all sorts of books that claimed to have insight on the loss of human mysticism and spirituality due to industrialization. A person can get lost in the sea of books like this: one can get disoriented. At the end of my studies, I made this drawing out of exhaustion for this sort of literature. I realize now that the fault lies more on imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism for the loss of spirituality in our society. In terms of my relationship with psychic phenomena, I enjoy imagining a world that is unmediated by screens, media, propaganda, consumerism, and whatever else that goes unquestioned and what our minds might be capable of.

Drawings like Infinity and Pepto Bismol are extremely detailed. How long does it take to create a drawing?
Oooh they take a very long time. I drew Pepto Bismol when I was in school. I had the time and student lifestyle to commit to a drawing of that scale (5 x 6.5 ft). I also wasn’t playing music as much at the time. It took three months of monk-style commitment, drawing morning ’til night and often into the morning. I ate and slept by that drawing... it became a relationship similar to how one would tend to a garden—it had needs and only I could provide for it. Infinity took a couple months. I drew it when I was out of school, between moving twice, settling and unsettling, and adjusting to drawing on my own instead of being around people. 

Gee, your art sure is trippy. Are you influenced by visionary artists like Alex Grey or the readings of Timothy Leary?
Not so much anymore, but they have certainly sparked my curiosity in the past and have been part of my art education. Their work is important, and maybe this is directed more so at Mr. Leary, but though he is a brilliant man, I do not think ‘dropping out’ is a productive or revolutionary stance to take in regards to altering the consciousness of the masses, but maybe there's something I'm missing.

Have you ever had an out of body experience or a vision?
Dream states are baffling – I have had out of body experiences between states of being awake and dreaming and during instances of sleep paralysis (which have been terrifying), but I feel visions are much more common place and happen more regularly. They occur often throughout the day. I’m sure we all have ’em. I regard them as similar to how thoughts appear out of thin air. Images are a natural way for me to interpret the world and are thus how I often chose to communicate. Much of my work may start with a vision, followed by many until the work is realized. Sometimes they are the genesis of new directions and life movements, but they are also often project based.

There are some spiritual symbols in your work but you’re taking a new direction. Where are you headed?
As of late, I have been more privy to the B.S. our society promotes as normal, like how every individual requires a cell phone, even though their manufacturing involves the mining of the Coltan mineral, which in doing so perpetuates a deadly war in the Congo, which to me, looks far too much like the face of slavery. I am angered by the ongoing imperialism and colonialism experienced daily by the displaced and the oppressed—which includes the planet itself. People have been pointing it out since the beginning of industrialization. These things are not new, but they are now at a tipping point and have become issues that everyone needs to wake up to. I could take mushrooms and make art in a beautiful bubble of psychedelia, but the mushrooms would just tell me the earth is hurting and I’d be back at zero... so I guess this is the new direction (not to say mushrooms are a write-off) [Laughs].

You once said, “reality is really weird and psychedelic.” Is it one hit of acid or two?
Mmm, definitely two.

More Canadian art features:

Don't Tell Niall McClelland His Drawings Are Paintings

A Selection of Mark Peckmezian's Wonderful Photographs

The Ghostly and Intimate World of Claire Milbrath

Alexandra Mackenie

Alexandra Mackenie

Alexandra Mackenie

Ascension (Detail)
Alexandra Mackenie

Alexandra Mackenie

FTW (Detail)
Alexandra Mackenie

Alexandra Mackenie

Alexandra Mackenie

Pepto Bismol
Alexandra Mackenie

Pepto Bismol (Detail 1)
Alexandra Mackenie

Pepto Bismol (Detail 2)
Alexandra Mackenie

Prophetic Headache
Alexandra Mackenie

Psychic Melt
Alexandra Mackenie