by Ariadna Zierold
Miles “Mac” MacGregor is an artistic historian in his own right, capturing the influence of his culture within his works of art. The influence of El Mac’s Mexican and Chicano culture is written all throughout his creations.
He uses the streets as a way to continue the tradition of portraiture. Born in Los Angeles, the self-trained artist focuses on subjects that celebrate and reflect the cultural history of the southwest. Introduced to graffiti as a teenager, it was the materials and process involved in spray painting that captivated the artist more than writing letters.
Collaboration is a part of graffiti and it’s a practice that Mac embraces, since the city is essentially a large shared space where his work lives. Set against the work of noted artists Nuke and Kofie, the layered mural honors indigenous peoples and invisible histories that are often forgotten.
Mac like many artists learning their trade began by painting portraits of friends and family members but this output eventually progressed to conceptually heavier material. Choosing to paint a series of anonymous Mexican laborers, these paintings honored those that would not be typically featured in the history of portraiture.
His finished murals are so well regarded they are sometimes seen as unofficial monuments throughout the city. The artist knows these temporary contributions have a much more powerful impact during their life than traditional studio work. Collectively as a body, they celebrate, honor, and speak into human nature and the importance of truth and beauty.
Mac utilizes an application of spray paint that appears to vibrate and ripple on the wall. Furthermore, precise shading gives life to his subjects, ultimately transmitting an palpable energy through his work that is unlike no other. While each portrait is typically soft from a distance, the crosshatching and line work bursts outward with exuberance.
The history of Mexican and Chicano culture is a constant in Mac’s work. A student of art history, his use of Catholic iconography is unmistakable. While he portrays everyday people, the juxtaposition of a mother and child, the use of blue cloak, or an implied halo around the head of one his sitters signifies the importance of the divine and the role of the church.
“It’s a visual language that extends back to classical times.” Although not overtly religious himself, Mac sees himself as a spiritual person. He does not seek to teach biblical narratives or virtues but instead references this symbology and imparts its significance to his sitters, making the commonplace extraordinary.
After finishing his “Juarense y Poderosa” mural in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, El Mac moved up north to El Paso where he created another strong and meaningful piece. Titled “Ánimo Sin Fronteras” (Spirit Without Borders) it is another homage to the people that experienced the injustice and violence occurring regularly in the areas on the US/Mexican border. Through this series of murals, he is trying to get pay respect to these people and help them with their fights.
“This is the mural I painted in El Paso, Texas, titled “Ánimo Sin Fronteras” (spirit without borders). All aerosol and fatcapsIt’s based on photos I shot in 2012 of a man named Melchor Flores, who’s been fighting to get answers and justice for his son who was picked up and disappeared by police in Nuevo León in 2009. This mural is located in the heart of downtown El Paso, and complements the fighting spirit of the classic boxing mural next to it. This is an important mural for me, something I’ve been trying to make happen for a while. It is for all those who fight for justice.”
Mac’s El Paso and Juárez murals are excellent examples of this energy applied to a political framework. The murals feature a different image on each side of the U.S./Mexican border and are a manifestation of Mac’s soft yet powerful voice. Each portrait addresses the violence and corruption with border politics and crime. The first portrait features a young woman whose mother was kidnapped and killed while the other is a man whose son was murdered by the police. The proud and dignified images exude hope and resilience yet simultaneously raise awareness to the awful conditions for those living on the border and the struggles these families have undergone. Mac’s ability to address difficult issues is shrouded in beauty and it makes the harsh truth palpable.
What makes El Mac’s works so memorable is his ability to put a modern spin on the conventionality of the human portrait by incorporating his detailed line work. This brings an almost distorted, fragmented accompaniment to his creations, opening the doors for varying interpretation. Challenged by creating difficult images, Mac succeeds by making more than a technically executed portrait. They instead are social and spiritual reminders of our humanity, the small details of what makes someone an individual become giant gestures to be admired.