Interview with McKenzie Fisk for ‘Good Luck Don’t Die’

Thinkspace is pleased to present ‘Good Luck Don’t Die’ featuring new work by McKenzie Fisk.

Los Angeles-based artist McKenzie Fisk’s work is a pop surrealist interpretation of the raw and unfiltered view of the childhood experience. Painting children and animals together, Fisk strips away the weight of adulthood and the accompanying overwhelm of an unending list of daily tasks, by capturing the slices of life that remind us of childhood and the joy of small everyday moments.

In anticipation of ‘Good Luck Don’t Die,’ our interview with McKenzie Fisk discusses her creative process, snack foods, and the inspiration behind this body of work

Join us on May 30th for the virtual opening of ‘Good Luck Don’t Die.’

Full schedule of events after the interview

SH: For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

MF: When I was little, I used to draw famous paintings to get out of chores. When I went to college, I got a double BA in Microbiology and Fine Art, with a minor in Chemistry. I went on to complete a Masters in Physiology at Columbia University in NYC. After a year of planning in NYC, I launched my own art-unrelated company. After that year, I sold that business and suddenly found myself with some extra cash and free time. So I painted. A lot. Even though I have an art degree, it was basically during this time that I finally had the confidence to give in to what I really wanted to do and give it a real go. That was a little over 10 years ago and I never looked back. I get to satisfy my inner science geek on the daily by listening to science or history podcasts, books on tape, or anything I care to learn about while I paint. And I usually base my work on scientific studies, things I find useful to remember, or other things I find interesting. 

SH: What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work?

MF: My show is called “Good Luck Don’t Die”, featuring animals that are critically endangered for one reason or another, where there are either no conservation efforts or the conservation efforts in place are ineffective. In one piece, the manatee, they’ve been rehabilitated to the point where they’ve been removed from the critically endangered list and, therefore, also removed are the efforts and regulations enforced to stop their population decline (which will cause an immediate relapse of population decline). 

I think it’s important to see how integral human interference is in causing the degradation of whole species. And that only human intervention and policy will stop it. The pieces are meant to start a discussion about the plight of the individual animals more than point a finger at any one particular institution. There’s no perfect solutions, but hopefully there’s a willingness to learn and broach the hard discussions necessary to save these species. 

I try to create beautiful images that don’t slap the viewer in the face with their narratives, but at the same time I hope people will delve a little deeper into the details and that they will spark those discussions. 

SH: What was the most challenging piece in the exhibition and why?

MF: The orangutan piece.

Capturing this moment of childhood was important, and fit well with the narrative I wanted to relate on how the palm oil industry is killing off Orangutans. But doing both justice at the same time was a challenge.

For the first part: the ability to cook and prepare meals is tied to joy in everyday life. As a kid, putting the tastiest things together should result in something even tastier, right? I wanted to portray that, as a kid just learning, that seems logical. 

For the second part, depicting how ingrained palm oil use is in so many products it’s almost impossible to avoid, even if you are willing to read the ingredient list/ know the different names under which palm oil hides. The Cadbury creme egg is a really good example of its parent company, Mondilever (its underling being US Cadbury), because it is simply listed under “vegetable oil” in its ingredient list. For those trying to avoid palm oil, it’s an unfair delineation. But should you avoid palm oil? it’s not that simple. There are farmers that rely on their palm oil plantations. There are now “sustainable” sources of palm oil -though that falls on the back of having first created the fields through fire and in an unsustainable way. It’s history is rooted in deforestation. Farmers treat the orangutans as pests and try to dispose of them. But a whopping 50% of shelved products in our grocery stores have palm oil – what is the best way to satisfy both the farmers, the food industry, and the orangutans/ other animals in that area that rely on forest habitats? As an exercise, name your 3 favorite snack foods. Palm oil is likely in all 3 of them! 

SH: What is your most and least favorite part of the creative process?

MF: My favorite part is coming up with the narratives and getting them out and onto a surface.  I really enjoy the rough strokes and accidental play of colors as everything is being blocked in. Least favorite part is the finishing and smoothing.

SH: Who are some of your creative influences?

MF: Norman Rockwell for his narratives. JC Leyendecker for his use of brushstrokes

SH: If you could download any skill into your brain, Matrix-style, what would you want to instantly learn?

MF: Woodworking and construction. I have all these ideas to create things and spaces and would love to someday know how to build things. 

SH: Would you rather be able to talk to animals or read people’s minds?

MF: Neither! If I had to choose, I guess talk to animals. 

SH: We are in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s an unprecedented time, and it’s a weird time – What is your approach to life during this time? Are you sticking to routines, or making it up as we go? What does quarantine life look like for you?

MF: I’ve mostly been working on this body of work and was fine to not have the social pressures of having to leave the house while painting over the last few months. I’m starting to get stay-at-home fatigue but will continue to stay home anyway to protect the at-risk people I have in my life.

Quarantine life will hopefully mean a little more self-care over the next coming months. Making sure I’m in touch with friends, exercising and having a little more freedom to practice some new skills (painting and otherwise). 

SH: Favorite thing you’ve watched, listened to, and ate in the last 30 days? Or since days don’t matter anymore, since the “shelter-in-place” orders came down.

MF: Watched: I’ve really enjoyed re-watching “The Last Man on Earth”. It’s a series made a few years ago about a virus that kills almost all of humanity (ironically, or prophetically, that hit in 2020). I love how they briefly emphasize art early-on in the series, as some iconic pieces are gathered and still considered prized possessions. And it inspired my need for a full-size dinosaur skull on my future dining table.

Ate: Discovered these frozen chocolate muffins from a company called “Vegetables Made Great”. They’re delicious and the perfect pick-me-up snack when I’m working. 

SH: If you could be on a zoom call with 5 people dead or alive who would they be? What would be the ice breaker question?  

My mom (who passed away in 2017)

Warren Buffett

Malcolm gladwell

Simon sinek

Terry Crews  

And I would ask them: “What is one thing in life you wish you knew sooner, but only found out or really understood in your more advanced years?”

Online Schedule of Virtual Events:

Saturday, May 30 at 12:00 noon pacific time we will post our professionally shot video tour of our new exhibitions to our Instagram TV

Saturday, May 30 from 1-2 pm pacific time we will go live on our Instagram to tour our new exhibitions + we will have all the artists on hand to briefly discuss their new shows

Sunday, May 31 at 2 pm pacific time we will post a full set of installation photos from both exhibitions to our Facebook and blog

Monday, June 1 at 4 pm pacific time we will share a link to the self-guided virtual tour of our new exhibitions on all of our social networks

Saturday, June 20 from 4-8 pm we will have a closing party via timed visits (scheduled online) that will be strictly monitored for everyone’s safety. No more than 4 patrons at one time, in one group (all must know each other and arrive at the same time). Masks will be required to enter and worn at all times. No exceptions. More details shared soon.