it might be said that mackenzie thorpe’s history can be read in his artwork. themes of childhood, hope and community contrast with shadows and struggle; the bringing together of these opposing concepts and creating something universally understandable and appreciated is what has led to mackenzie thorpe becoming one of the most successful current artists in the uk.
thorpe was born into 1950s middlesborough. his family connection was strong, and he began his art journey when he was a young child, unable to stop drawing even when he did not have real materials, sometimes borrowing his mother’s makeup to create his art. thorpe’s struggles with dyslexia resulted in him leaving school with no qualifications; he remembers being told that he would never succeed when all he ever did was draw.
thorpe worked in manual labour positions until he was able to enter the middlesbrough college of art, followed by the byam shaw school of art in london. he stayed in london for a number of years to work with children in need.
as he grew in success and started his own family, thorpe moved back to the north and founded his gallery. he continued to gain recognition and admiration for his work, and in 2019 held a tour celebrating 30 years of his art career. this tour stretched from yorkshire to the usa and japan, demonstrating the continued delight that thorpe’s fans find in his work, and the wide appeal that his art holds for all who view it.
thorpe is known for his themes of love and friendship, expressed through a naïve yet powerful style with bold colours and strongly defined compositions. he first become known for his “square sheep”, which have now become their own distinct series in the history of his work.
repeated themes or characters can often be found in thorpe’s artwork. many of his paintings, pastel works and sculptures focus on a childlike figure in a dark coat and hood, for example, frequently accompanied by a bright red heart in an image of innocence and love. other pieces are centred on figures inspired by the industrial north, such as men in flat caps playing football or drinking beer.
thorpe’s style varies, sometimes with a more “cartoonish” element to it, and sometimes more austere. each choice is carefully made according to the emotions thorpe wishes to evoke in his individual artworks. brightly coloured bridgework hangs over hearts, or the shipyards thorpe used to work in with his father; flatcapped farmers heard sheep against pastel clouds; line-drawn children smile in moments of love and trust.
thorpe’s simplistic style has meant that he has been misunderstood by critics in the past. those who have discovered his work, however, can recognise the impact his symbolic imagery has on the viewer. much of his work remains focused on seeing the world through the eyes of a child, and the links we still have to our childhood selves.