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Artist Roy McMakin Asks ‘What’s Your Favorite Color?’


Artist Roy McMakin wants to know what your favorite color is and why. The acclaimed artist and UCSD grad will be in La Jolla this weekend constructing a mural using the favorite colors of passers-by. We'll talk with McMakin about interactive mural-making, color and his career in art, architecture and design.

Artist Roy McMakin wants to know what your favorite color is and why. The acclaimed artist and UCSD grad will be in La Jolla this weekend constructing a mural using the favorite colors of passers-by. We'll talk with McMakin about interactive mural-making, color and his career in art, architecture and design.


Roy McMakin is an acclaimed Seattle-based artist who graduated from UCSD's MFA program. He's known for his conceptual art approach to furniture, design, and architecture.

Matt Browar is the chair of Murals of La Jolla, a committee formed by The La Jolla Community Foundation.

Public Info: The building of this interactive mural begins at 9am on Saturday at 7596 Eads Ave. in La Jolla.

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Transcript Disclaimer

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. What makes you like blue more than green? Or pink more than red? It's a question that fascinates artist, Roy McMakin, and it's the focus of a new public art he'll be creating in La Jolla. On the side of a building, I wall made up of small tiles. McMakin will create a mural of choices of passersby and onlookers. It's part of an on going community art project in La Jolla, and it's also part of an ongoing exploration by the artist of what color means to us individually and why. I'd like to welcome my guest, Roy McMakin is a Seattle based artist who graduated from UC San Diego's MFA program. He's known for his conceptual art approach to furniture design and architecture.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Roy, good morning, welcome to These Days.

MCMAKIN: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So, Roy, what's your favorite color?

MCMAKIN: My favorite color is green. But not just any green.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. What kind of green?

MCMAKIN: Well, I mean I guess that's the fascinating thing is you have to see it. But there's a specific, you know, color that I love. And I did a project recently where I let people paint tables a green that they liked. And I was amazed at how many of the tables I didn't like the color of. So I learned even if you have a favorite color, it tends to be kind of a specific shade at times.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're absolutely right. Now why do you think green is your favorite color.

MCMAKIN: Well, I mean, who knows, right? It's the thing that I think most everybody since a small child, it becomes a very important thing. And it's very deeply held, and even talking to someone the other day, shared with me that their favorite color probably really wasn't blue, but they were a blue person as a kid, and they had to keep saying blue because their identity was so connected with being -- favoring blue most. So you know, I'm not a scientist. So I think there couldab and there probably are scientists exploring where color preference is in the brain. But it certainly is important. Of.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think the question of what is your favorite color is a terrifying question. Because I always feel there's a right answer, and I don't know it.

MCMAKIN: Okay. Then I think we can get to explore your childhood.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is it that's interesting to you about the way people make their preferences for color?

MCMAKIN: Well, I mean, what I think is interesting is, again, how deeply held it is, or even in your case, how even the question is, you know, an emotional question. And I think it is a very emotional thing for people. I think that it -- I mean, it's partly just visual experience is, you know, a huge part of life, how we kind of organize and choose to live and make our [CHECK] you know, you can't have an invisible -- any of these things. They have to be something, and even if they're gray or just the color that plastic comes out if you add no color to it, they always have a color association.


MCMAKIN: So it's partly filled -- you just have to make this decision about color constantly.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I remember, you read a lot about what people's preferences for color means. You know, if you like red, you're a passionate personality. Or if you like blue, you're a passive person of or purple, you're a creative type. Have you seen any of those linkages sort of work to any advantage in your experience with color?

MCMAKIN: Well, you know, I don't want really -- and again, I'm an artist. I get to go into things however makes sense, it's sort of what artists do is explore. And I mean, I've never really -- I've probably in passing read things like that. But for me, it really has come up more both in thinking about my own life and my own -- both being young and then as I have gotten older, how I make decisions. But a large part of what I do is commissions, whether it be -- at times art related, but really, you know, furniture.


MCMAKIN: Or houses, you get into people's, you know, kind of deepest preferences, and you have these long conversations about them. And I, you know, I was just amazed at, you know, how varied but how passionate the. Of and so for me, it's just like this personal journey and me trying to make sense of it. And I think the key to the is to come back to what you said about yours, is there really is no right or wrong. There really isn't.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you. I'm still trying to convince myself of that. Now, the wall that you'll be working on in La Jolla has 900 tiles. Will you be coloring each tile individually?

MCMAKIN: That is our -- that is it our goal. And so we will -- we are going to do that. And I think that -- what I did was, again, back to that idea that, you know, you might say green, but it's not just any green. So I went through and subjectively picked I range of greens, of blues, or pinks or yellows that I felt covered what people might say, you know, like a bluer green and a limier green or whatever. And it's mostly so people won't just say, you/ know, green. They'll lookingly at colors and they'll say that one, and put it up. So it will -- and I think there's like 58 or something total. So the goal is, either on Saturday, or if Saturday is rainy or we're not successful, we're going to keep going until we get all 900 fills.


MCMAKIN: So we're gonna do it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, do you know how many colors you will be have with you?

MCMAKIN: [CHECK]. If weather permits, we're gonna be doing this in real time. We will have painters there painting. Of so there'll be, you know, different sort of kiOSCs so to speak or there'll be the blue board over there, and a pink board over there, because we don't want blue and pink people to be too close to each other. And you know, people will just choose the one that they feel is the one that they would, you know, choose as their color. And then we'll be assigning, it's really just first come, first serve, starting in the order of the upper left-hand corner and then moving right and then down. So we'll just be painting as we get those things, and if we're so fortunate that we get behind, you know, we'll keep painting the next day or whatever it takes to get them up again depending on the weather. But I think if we're prepared, if it's rainy or if we don't get enough people, we're going to have a website, but we're gonna keep doing it until it's completely full. Because why not?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And how will this actually work? When people submit their color choices, will you -- is this gonna be just randomly put up on these -- on this tile wall or are you gonna select the tile that gets that particular color.

MCMAKIN: Well, it's actually, it's like a painted concrete block tile wall where the squares are kind of raised, and the first one will be the upper left-hand corner, and we'll just move horizontally down top to bottom. So you know, the first person will be the upper left corner, and the last will be the lower right corner are so that's just kind of sequentially 'cause, you know, you can also pick people's favorite number between 1 and 900 if it wasn't too complicated.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So this is gonna be exciting for you as well to see how this develops.

MCMAKIN: Well, I mean, yeah, I think it's gonna be -- the process has been really fun, and a big part of it is about the process. Because that is really -- a lot of what we mentioned going to school at UCside, and that's what this school was about so much back then. With Allen cap row president, it was very much conceptual and the process and how things turn out is really dependent on how it goes about. But I am really interested in seeing the completed thing, because I think it will both be some kind of colorful wall that will have a certain tonal sense to it, and have something. And I think it'll be interesting for people who don't even know what happened. They'll just wonder, well, why is it that condition figuration? Or may might have just some emotional or intuitive sense of how it feels. But you add in the information that that's really the conglomerate of 900 people choosing what their favorite color was, and that's the document. And I think the document should be, you know, interesting and, you know, pretty.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes. That's always very important as well. I'm speaking with Roy McMakin, he's an artist who is the most aren't artist to be chosen to create a mural in La Jolla. We'll be talking more about his connections to UC San Diego's MFA program. But first, joining us now is Matt Browar, he is the chair of murals of La Jolla. It's a committee formed by the La Jolla community foundation. And good morning, Matt.

BROWAR: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Roy is not the only artist who will be making murals in La Jolla, is he?

BROWAR: He is not, actually he is our second artist. Our first artist was Kim McConnell who finished his mural in August of this year. And it's located on Gerard avenue behind 7724. And Kim also was a professor at UCSD. And Kim started the pattern and decoration movement in the '70s.


BROWAR: And at the same time, the museum has an exist by Kim, which has worked out pretty well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, how did this idea for this project come about? Why murals?

BROWAR: Well, the foundation wanted to bring art to La Jolla. Of our first choice was to bring in sculpture. And we thought about bringing in large sculpture in La Jolla, and after talking to the city on how long things would take to put on private -- actually on public property.. it looks like it would never happen. And then prior to that, the foundation had put together a committee, an art committee, where an art committee would be able to choose the either sculpture or paintings in La Jolla. And in that committee, one of the committee members came up with an idea, why don't we do murals in La Jolla? If we do murals in La Jolla, we can contact the owners of the property, they own the building, so it's private property, and we should be able to create these murals in a pretty quick pace to get something up on the walls. So what we've done is, we added public art to private property, which allows us to not deal with the city, and the only item that the city will allow us to do is when we install these murals, as long as they're only up for 12224 months, they're called temporary. So there is no problem in doing that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Unless you side step [CHECK].

BROWAR: The committee, we've got an all star committee of people upon we've got hew Davies from the museum, we've got Linda Forchet, who is a director and the curator of insight. We've got Mark Quint, who is the owner of Quint contemporary art who's been the owner of his gallery for over 30 years, Mary Beattie who's the director of the Stewart collection at UCSD. We've got Michael Krichman who started insight, and Erica tory the director of the [CHECK] in La Jolla.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, that is an all star panel.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now you have Kim MAUREEN CAVANAUGHConnel, and you have Roy McMakin. Do you know who the next artist is going to be?

BROWAR: [CHECK] and she's probably one of the leading British sculptures of her generation. The mural location has been chosen issue we're just waiting for documentation back to get everything signed and sealed, and annia has actually finished an image that has been approved by the committee.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. So this project is really moving along, then. Well, Matt, thank you so much for joining us.

PLAINTIFF: You're very welcome.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I wish you good weather on Saturday.

BROWAR: Rain or shine, we're moving forward.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. Matt Browar is the chair of murals of La Jolla. And it's a committee formed by the La Jolla community foundation. And I want to get back to talking with Roy McMakin who's the artist who's creating the most recent mural of La Jolla, a wall made up of raised tiles that's gonna be -- it's gonna be colored with people's favorite colors. 900 people's favorite colors. Of and Roy, you mentioned when talking about this the fact that this -- this project reflects a lot of what you picked up, a lot of what you learned going to school here in San Diego, the under grad and MFA program at UCSD. You were there when the program was really establishing itself. What was that experience like for you?



MCMAKIN: It was -- it was interesting. It was also interesting for me 'cause I think I came there having started under graduate at a different school in Oregon and was very interested in -- became interested in conceptual art, performance art, and video stuff, and that wasn't the education they was receiving so I looked around and was -- and chose UCSD. And that became a huge kind of back drop to what I did there and learned there, but because I'm it just inherently as an artist very interested in objects and, you know, objects -- I make objects whether they be big or small, and also a bit tradition, I ended up spending a great deal of time working with Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson who were this wonderful weaving into the -- this conceptual, this very, kind of object oriented -- those artists. And it allowed for I think what's really the foundation of what I've gone on to do in my life. Some people have described me as a -- as a conceptualist with good taste. You know, in that I -- while I love the ideas, and you know, of things, I essentially love what things look like and what things are and all of that. So I think it's been this -- perhaps kind of a tension between kind of interested in the style or the esthetics or things, but then I have this intense need to kind of make it be bracketed within, essentially, conceptual art. I mean, I think even my architecture, which is a big part of what I do, I really take it on as a kind of a conceptual art project with the clients in a way, even though I do it professionally and all that kind of stuff.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You mentioned that one of your teachers at UCSD was Allan Kaprow, and I know that you described in mural concept for the La Jolla wall as cap rowesque. I wonder what's the most important thing you learned from working with Allen cap row and fact cult there in the America FA program at UCSD.

MCMAKIN: Well, I mean it's -- I mean I'm not -- this is not in any way directly referring to Allen cap row's work. And I think in many ways my work is very, very different than what he did. But I think the influence is really more than I found, like, it's kind of the question of where -- what is the object, where is the art in this process? And it becomes as much about the kind of circumstance you've set up to allow some experience that's the art to exist that that is the role of the artist, that you're not fully controlling what it is. And that the experience matters. So I think that in that sense, is the art of this thing on Saturday, is this just a means to achieve a colorful wall? And, you know, or is the experience really the kind of way that this very simple idea has led to all this sort of interesting effort to try to, you know, because of some -- the 900 isn't -- like it's not -- I didn't decide 900 was some meaningful number to get people to do. It just so happens that's how many squares there are to fill on this wall.


MCMAKIN: So that's sort of this kind of, you know, this wall presented itself and there's this many squares, and how do you do it, and so from that it turns out the idea of, well, you get some food trucks there to do it. And you gotta make it, you know, kind of fun. And so I think that in a very loose way came from having an education where both -- you could kind of do anything, but you also kind of have to, like, know why you were doing anything.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, right you had to have that bases of the concept of the art project. I'm speaking with artist Roy McMakin, and I know that you are best known, Roy, for your work in furniture, work that is both art and functional furniture. Can you tell our audience how that works? How do you decide that one chair you're going to make is going to be for people to use as a chair and another one is going to be for people to contemplate what a chair is?

MCMAKIN: I think I will spend a life trying to make sense of that issue. I think the issue is that when I make a chair that's not a sculpture of a chair, that's really a chair, then I think it is meant to be sat upon as a chair versus being a sculpture that happens to be a representation of a chair. But I think the question of, well, so why does -- is that chair a piece of sculpture? Is the chair that you sit on a piece of sculpture too? And I think this is a kind of an unanswerable question. Because I'm an artist, and I feel like an artist, I act like an artist, I have self identified as an artist my whole life, so when an artist makes a chair, is that a chair or a sculpture? I think it's maybe both or maybe it's a chair made by an artist so it's a piece of art. But -- and the issue of the functionality of it is deeply fascinating to me because, really my first stuff which really, you mentioned Matt Clanger [CHECK] who I've been showing with since I got out of school with consistently. [CHECK] but my first show with him right out of graduate school was tables. And what was interesting to me is that I was telling people to -- that they could put things on these tables, whether it be their keys or a vase or the newspaper, mail or whatever.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In the gallery.

MCMAKIN: In the gallery, and in their homes, like they bought it.


MCMAKIN: This is it a game that I have done but I did when I was younger. Of you go into museum, and you look at a sculpture, whatever it might be, and imagine if you were allowed to put your keys on that sculpture or not. How that object is immediately transformed by the idea that you could put something on it or use it or hang your coat on. And it's a very deeply conceptual and powerful tool, I think as an artist, to be able to say here is my art, and you can sit on it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You actually make furniture as functional furniture, and art pieces at the same time through the use of color often to get back to what the mural is gonna be this Saturday. By taking an ordinary writing table -- table, that is, and painting it, you know, this shocking color of pink that you don't know whether you should look at it or use it.

MCMAKIN: Well, again it gets down to that issue which is the guiding thing, it's like, the table -- I mean, it is meant to be used. And it has to look like something. Of I mean, again, the most elemental of issues. But you can't just make a writing table and chair that is completely invisible. You can make one clear, you can make it whatever, you can make it modernist and try it make it so purely functional that it's supposed to disappear, but yet it still looks like something, and it still has the trappings of style and design and the time period it came from. So I think that color is a wonderful way to -- I mean, I think that what I came to in my life is that there's all kinds of ways to think about design or the making of objects that are utilitarian, but I think there is a long culturally historic president of what you try to make them look like is love. And I think that you can look at a lot of amazing design through the millennium, and I think the stuff that somehow has survived or that at least I am drawn to, there's something in it, and I think that is to try to create a physical manifestation of love within it. And I think color is -- I think there is a lot of love within color. Of I mean, I think that's part of the passion that we were talking about earlier, that there is, you know, maybe people say I hate purple or I hate green or I love blue. I think it goes to a very core experiential place.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Roy I don't want to leave this conversation without talking about also your affinity and your work in architecture. And your interest in architecture developed here in San Diego. And I believe it was when you were living in an Irving Gill house? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

MCMAKIN: Well, it actually -- it started actually when I really got to San Diego. And I kind of heard a tiny bit about Irving Gill, and there was a tour of Irving Gill houses, and so I took it, and it was, you know, that tour was just epiphanal for me. I was just, like, completely felt this. Like many -- Irving Gill is deeply beloved as she should be in San Diego. But for me it really became a little bit of an obsession. Of and then I -- actually, the house I most really had some resonance in, ironically when I got out of, or happily or whatever, when I got out of graduate school and I was leaving the La Jolla area, it became available for rent for a few years. Of which is it's a casa house across from the Marston house, and I lived there for a few years. And I actually moved to LA to restore a gill house contemporaneously with the dodge house. But it was really -- and I had been very interested in architecture even as a child with my Legos and everything. But I -- but it was really living in these Gill houses that I really understood what has become the core of my sense of architecture, which is really that -- again, it kind of gets back to stuff that I'm talking about in general. That both architecture to succeed is both an incredible and an interesting visual object, to see how somebody made the decisions. But it's also a kind -- it's choreography, it's -- it tell it is you how you move through space. Of and if you live in it, therefore how you live, it's sort of choreographs your life with it. And both of the Gill houses that I lived in just combined for probably about eight years, you know, my life was choreographed in this deeply meaningful way that was beyond what the space looked like. And I've taken that and it really is -- I think I have to think about how it is to move through the space and how it's kind of, you know, making your everyday life be different that is it really a starting point for my architecture that is, against what it looks like. Of because again, it can't be invisible.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I have to tell you that we're out of time. But thank you so much for speaking with us.

MCMAKIN: It was great. Thank you very much.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Roy McMakin is a Seattle based artist, but he's coming to San Diego, coming to La Jolla this Saturday to create a mural as part of the mural of La Jolla, murals of La Jolla ongoing project. The mural is made up of the public's favorite colors. It's gonna be built on Saturday at 7596Eeds Avenue. That is in La Jolla, and there will be food trucks, live music, and free giveaways of I-pod nanos if you're like to take part. Please go on-line, Days. Coming up, it's the weekend preview on These Days, here on KPBS.


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