El Mac on His Latest Mural in Phoenix -- And Why It Almost Didn't Happen

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We caught muralist El Mac in the act of art-making at The Heavy Pedal, 1309 E. Van Buren last week, working on his latest Phoenix mural. It's a collaboration between El Mac, Pablo Luna, and Mando Rascón that took a full week of steady work to execute. The results are stunning.

We're wondering how the folks who first commissioned the work will be feeling once they see it. Turns out, The Heavy Pedal team snagged the work for their east-facing wall only after the design's original commissioners decided it wasn't a good fit for their site.

See also: 40 Favorite Murals in Phoenix

The central portion of the mural features the profile of a woman's face, painted with a range of silver and grey hues complimented by pale blues -- plus a rosy blush color along a portion of her face. She's formed and surrounded by the wavy lines and concentric circles prominent in El Mac's work. It's flanked by his collaborators' work -- elaborate interwoven lines, and skull-infused images including a serpent, mariachi musician, and lowrider.

According to El Mac, the work's commissioners, whom he declined to identify, said the mural was "too ethnic" given its proximity to the venue that the artist remembers as America West Arena, more recently known as US Airways Center and Talking Stick Resort Arena, although signage for the latter has yet to be installed. He was offended, of course, and decided to take the work elsewhere.

A mutual friend who stores arcade games at The Heavy Pedal put the owners and artist in touch.

El Mac was tinkering around in the back of a white hatchback when we stopped by on the afternoon of January 8 to get a glimpse, and emerged to join Luna at the wall for a few final hours of painting. Working with cans that of silver paint that sometimes dribbled on the ground, he graciously paused to chat a bit about Phoenix arts and culture.

Although he's based in L.A., where he was born in 1980, El Mac gets to Phoenix several times a year. Both his parents, an engineer and an artist, live here -- and he's still very much a part of the Phoenix art scene. Before taking the name El Mac, he was simply Miles "Mac" MacGregor.

As a boy, he'd tag along while his mom went around the city, taking candid photos she'd later use in painting. "I never went to art school but I grew up in art school," he says. He recalls visiting museums and galleries with his mother as well. "I remember seeing Keith Haring's work at Phoenix Art Museum and being inspired by that," he says. Noting their role as the city's art museum, he says the museum "has a responsibility to show more work by local artists." Despite burgeoning art scenes in other parts of the Valley, El Mac says downtown Phoenix is still where it's at.

El Mac started painting with acrylics and painting graffiti in the mid-1990s. He's best known for rendering human faces with what he describes as "contour lines reminiscent of ripples." Walls were hard to come by in the early days, he says, so graffiti artists painted over and over again on the same ones. Nowadays he's "almost jealous" of Phoenix artists who have a far bigger selection of walls to work with, and growing acceptance in the community.

The change in venue for his latest design shows we have quite a way to go. Still, El Mac seems optimistic. "I have faith in Phoenix," he told us.

You can find El Mac's Phoenix Goddess mural in an alley south of McDowell Road between Third and Fifth avenues, spot a collaboration with Lalo Cato at Por Vida Gallery, and see his collaboration with Augustine Kofie at Circle 6 Studio.

Editor's note: This post has been edited from its original version to correct the name of Mando Rascón, which was originally stated as Mondo.

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