Perris Mackey: The Pieces that Fit

Perris Mackey, Cavs Starting 5 (2016), Collage, on view in The Pieces that Fit at Patina Arts Centre

Perris Mackey’s figurative collage has been a steady presence on social media, and his current exhibit, The Pieces that Fit, at Patina Arts Centre in Canton shows potential for an interesting contribution to current dialog about the people we look up to as heroes, about consumer culture, and –in light of his recently stated goal to create an exhibition of life-size collages of Black Icons—about race.

Since about 2012, Mackey—who goes by p_ThaNerd– has been making images by drawing into a grid and then gluing into place torn bits of comic books and other magazines. He says he likes all comics, and his characters show it, but his favorite is the Marvel universe. For the uninitiated, the Marvel universe is a place where having a superpower can have its drawbacks. 

Mackey has been a featured artist at Stella’s Art Gallery, and he has had multiple portrait commissions, but hasn’t had a solo show in a Cleveland venue. His portraits and scenes, informed by a mix of comic book characters, icons of Black culture, and other elements were worth the trip to Canton. The works in the show are varied in size and content, but they show his skill at making nuanced color fields to fill out line drawings, either original or created from photos.

A small set of pieces at the back of the gallery, which might get the least attention from visitors, were interesting in the way they relate to the rest of the dialog: They are simply named for the color they represent. But instead of a simple, solid rectangle of color, each comprises scores of cut squares that together, from a distance, blend to make the color: Blue, Gray, Green.  They are simple, and limited, but they say something about his collage practice. These are about the color, and the process of adding up the variety of hues to create what is perceived by the eye.  Everything in the show uses that idea, but in these small pieces, that idea is the beginning and end. In the other works, it goes much farther.

Perris Mackey, Goku vs Superman, an early collage

All the other works are representational figures using hundreds of cut or torn scraps to add up to all the colors that make the image: The pieces that fit. Intentional or not, there is a relationship between the source material that is cut or torn, and the resulting images. In his action shot Goku Vs Superman, the flesh tones are made from cut photos of skin—lips, eyes, and other body parts. Mackey says at that point in his career, using flesh was the only way he knew to create the color of flesh. Since then his technique has advanced beyond that limit. He said at the opening, though, that he has not considered the relationship between the source of the color and the eventual use of it as another way to inform the images: it’s just about the color. At least so far. It’s easy to imagine him using the medium to elevate, and amplify, and complicate the message.

Perris Mackey, Goku vs Superman (detail)

A couple of pieces hinted at the potential for his idea for an upcoming show: a near life size collage of Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan in his iconic No. 23 uniform, shushing the crowd in Utah during the 1998 playoffs. Mackey noted in describing the image that he is wearing a pair of Air Jordan 13s, a player exclusive, custom made for him and not available to anyone else. “Michael Jordan’s outstanding career is a result of hard work and determination, and I feel if I apply that same work ethic to my own craft, then I will be just as successful,” Mackey said in a message.

Juxtaposed works representing Michael Jordan (L) and Cartoon Network characters Rick and Morty

The Michael Jordan collage is juxtaposed with a same-sized image of Rick and Morty, title characters in an animated, sci-fi humor series for adults on the Cartoon Network.  The juxtaposition is what captures attention here: Is this a comment on hero worship, or the entertainment industry, or consumer culture? There certainly is something about the commodification of superstars –be they in sport or music or any other realm—that makes them like characters with their whole lives exposed for entertainment.  Mackey says, though, that the image from the popular cartoon has no relation to the Michael Jordan piece.

Re-mixing is also an interesting and relevant idea in this show. Everything about these images is re-mixed, because the artists tears up one medium to make its pieces into another. In some works he has taken that idea to another level, combining multiple photos as source material for the image he creates, and then tearing up comic books and magazines to use the pieces like paint. One of his most accomplished works like this was not on view in this show because it already sold: a parody of the Last Supper, with a cast of musicians who died at age 27 in place of Jesus and the Apostles.

Perris Mackey, Jazzy Sessions, collage

Another that remixes at this level is titled Jazzy Session, comprising multiple photos to create a performance scene with superstars of jazz—Charles Mingus, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and Miles Davis.  It’s a celebration of great musicianship, of a cultural debt the world owes to African Americans. All these remixes have the potential to further comment on or move beyond the subject itself, and particularly with Mackey’s interest in celebrating Black icons, these large scale pieces that do that are a sign of great things to come.


There’s an affinity between Mackey’s chosen medium and the venue for The Pieces that Fit.  Patina Arts Centre director Alaska Thompson says she calls it Patina because that’s another way some metals respond to oxygen: it’s not rust. Canton experienced the decline of manufacturing like the rest of the rust belt, and so the local economy has had to adapt. But we’ve all heard plenty about rust. Patina highlights beauty in the material, even adds to it, in a way that is easier to appreciate than rust.  And of course the accumulation of color, torn and re-purposed from comic books and magazines gives Mackey’s work a patina of its own.

Patina Arts Center is part of a surprising (to this visitor, at least) arts district in Canton. In addition to the Canton Museum of Art, there are several galleries are clustered around walkable blocks of Downtown, and they coordinate in a First Friday art walk each month. In addition to Patina Arts Center, check out BZTAT Studios, The Hub Art Factory, Silo Art Studios, and Third Space Gallery.

The Pieces that Fit

March 25 – April 23

Patina Arts Centre

324 Cleveland Ave. NW

Canton, Ohio 44702

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.