No one could’ve ever predicted how this year would turn out. Since March, people all over the world have — at one point or another — been struck with feelings of uncertainty, sadness, or anger. Still, these trying times have shown us how far a simple act of kindness can go.
And that’s what artist Jim McKenzie has been working hard to do: Spreading kindness and helping people smile.
McKenzie is known for capturing his vibrant, surrealistic art in the form of stop motion videos, sculptures, and paintings. Some of his works include Friends with Death, The Scarecrow, The Monster’s Mother, Pumpkin Crab and the Puggle King, and Octopump Origins. (See Gallery at the bottom of the article).
Although McKenzie doesn’t consider his work to be outwardly dark, he admits there is an “underlying weirdness” within most of his characters.
“I give this to them because it’s something we have within all of us,” McKenzie tells Dread Central. “There’s also remnants of Halloween throughout the work. I’ve always felt a strange comfort when it comes to Halloween time, and I think a lot of horror fans can relate.”
McKenzie’s work is influenced by brilliant animators like Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline), the Quay Brothers (Nocturna Artificialia, Street of Crocodiles) and Ray Harryhausen (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans).
“A lot of my pieces are just melancholia with rainbow sprinkles, but I could only hope [my art] brings joy to some people,” he says.
And based on the constant positive feedback he’s gotten from followers, it seems as though it very much has.
“Sometimes an overly vibrant piece of art is a good escape from reality. I get a lot of my inspiration from everyday life and most of it is tied to my emotions,” McKenzie says. “While I put a lot of my heart into my work, I try not to take it too seriously.”
It’s safe to say that a form of escapism, like the surreal autumn wonderlands McKenzie scares up, is exactly what the world needs right now. He applies his easygoing approach not only to his art, but to his colorful, clever and warm social media content as well.
His creativity keeps his fans engaged with his life as an artist and father, whether he’s playing music with his toes late at night, making edible paint out of cornstarch with his family, or filling his quarantine sketchbook with colored pencil drawings of his son. (Or photoshopping Paul Rudd or Danny DeVito’s face onto his to maintain his privacy!)
And while McKenzie keeps his work and feed lighthearted, one thing he’s serious about is giving back to the community.
He has participated in numerous charity art auctions and sculpting classes, supporting special causes such as the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, Kids in Need of Defense, and the Exceptional Artists Foundation.
So when COVID-19 initially struck, McKenzie was expectedly eager to give back to his followers. He offered free digital coloring pages of his art, gave away original sculpts, and created a “Quarantine Crafts” video showing viewers how to stay creative with limited art supplies.
McKenzie also began a new project in early June, and it’s one that certainly has many fans excited. McKenzie has randomly selected Instagram followers to sculpt and then flown to their homes to surprise them with the finished piece.
Yes, you read that correctly. He’s flown to their homes to surprise them with sculptures of themselves.
He writes about his latest surprise encounter on Instagram: “Before we arrived I was a little nervous of the possibility that she might be completely weirded out by me showing up to her house or the fact that I had a tiny version of her head in my hand but thankfully she was very excited!”
“Seeing their reactions is so surreal and makes it all worth it for me. I’d like my work to continue down this path,” he says.
McKenzie tells us that he especially enjoys directing his energy into individual people as opposed to large gallery shows. This month, he and the Exceptional Artists Foundation will mail clay out to people and conduct free sculpting lessons via Zoom for the special needs community.
“I think we’re all searching for our own unique ways to contribute in making the world a little less grim. For me, all I can really give is my art and my time, so that’s what I’m trying to do,” McKenzie says.
In addition to all that he’s done so far this year, he recently announced that his art will either be given away or donated for the remainder of 2020. McKenzie is living proof that not all heroes wear capes; some of them make art instead.
“As intense of a year this has been, I know we’ll make it through.”
Jim McKenzie’s social media links: