Dayton artist Tyler Macko probes ‘unanswerable questions’

The city’s history of innovation is an influence on his work.

Credit: Courtesy of the artist, Brackett Creek Exhibitions, NY, NY and No Place Gallery, Columbus, OH

Credit: Courtesy of the artist, Brackett Creek Exhibitions, NY, NY and No Place Gallery, Columbus, OH

Artist Tyler Macko, 32, builds complexly layered mixed media paintings, 10 of which are on view at The Contemporary Dayton (The Co) art gallery. Incorporating plaster, wood, yarn, leather, glass, and found objects, Macko sites Pablo Picasso and Robert Rauschenberg as formative influences. Both artists laid the groundwork for “assemblage” - an approach to art that is made by putting together disparate elements – often everyday objects scavenged by the artist.

Macko’s work is dense and mysterious, seeming to absorb materials like a vortex and push some back out to the surface. The works “address ideas of a crumbling Americana at the nexus of domesticity, consumption, comfort, memory and loss,” according to The Co.

Here, Tyler Macko talks about his process, inspirations, and connection to Dayton.

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Tell me about your art background.

I’m self-taught, but I’ve always been fascinated with art and painting. My grandma was a home EC (economics) teacher when she was younger and was always painting small still life paintings. And her dad, my great-grandpa, was an industrious inventor who was an engineer from Lima. He was a draftsman for a tool company.

I’ve always heard that one fact, I don’t know if it’s been exaggerated over time, but pre-Silicon Valley, Dayton had the most patents for inventions. Growing up there was always lure of somebody, your babysitter’s great-grandfather invented the fishing bobber or something (laughs). It’s such a beautiful part of the city.

Does living in Dayton inform your work?

Living in Dayton and the Midwest in general is the mesh of the filter that things pass through me. It’s who I am to some degree.

Being a kid in the Midwest in the early 2000′s, hanging out and skateboarding in old abandoned factories was kind of a thing. I think that influenced my idea of history because you can’t be in those places and not wonder what happened there. They had such a purpose for so long.

All of these works were made in East Dayton and a lot of objects from the area are actually in them as well.

Credit: Courtesy of the artist, Brackett Creek Exhibitions, NY, NY and No Place Gallery, Columbus, OH

Credit: Courtesy of the artist, Brackett Creek Exhibitions, NY, NY and No Place Gallery, Columbus, OH

Where does the title of your show, “A voice from I don’t know where,” come from?

It’s a Mary Oliver poem. It’s about those moments where time doesn’t exist and it’s an infinite thing. Making a painting, my goal is always to turn off “me” and get rid of the prefrontal cortex problem-solving and let the intuition (take over). I think those are the moments that are the most special. It’s a life-long pursuit but it’s always such a beautiful moment when it does happen.

Tell me about your process.

I usually construct a base that is built to withstand getting things put on top of it and around it and cut into. In a painting, if you wanted a blue mark you would usually just add some blue there on the canvas. But in this case I’d physically make the mark using a jigsaw instead of a paintbrush, or find an object that worked.

I don’t go into anything with any sort of plan or list. Time is a pretty big part of my practice. It’s a long winding process. In making those works you’re putting a lot of things into them, for months or years, until one day they become harmonious. I have to push it as far as it can without letting it implode. It’s odd, they almost need time to settle.

It’s almost like they’re living beings when you describe them that way.

I do look at the paintings as their own entity. They do have a conscience in my view. That’s a beautiful thing about a painting - it’s not quite like Einstein’s Theory of Everything - a good painting is more like the feeling of everything and you just feel like all the unanswerable questions are answered. It’s different for everybody but that’s what they help me understand. You can’t quite put it into words.

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Your artworks hang on the wall but are constructed out of layers of wood and 3-dimensional objects. Do you consider them paintings?

I grew up loving painting and I was into sculpture but all those terms are a little inflated. If I had to give them a name I’d call them ‘objects of the eye’ so I just call them paintings for an access. I never want to make paintings that seem inaccessible or that it’s bigger or better than anybody. If I call it a painting, someone can relate to it.

Is the wall piece (Tree Through a Web) site-specific to The Co?

I specifically made that installation to fit that wall. It is made up of old salvaged doors and all the scraps of the paintings that I make with a jigsaw or a bandsaw. All the little pieces that get cut off I compile and they get smushed into those doors. I use screen doors because they have the most negative space. You cut the screen out and there’s a giant rectangle that needs to be filled. I put a backer on it and then I place the wood from bigger to smaller pieces until you’re jamming toothpick-sized pieces of wood into little voids. You fill that with a wood filler and then it gets sanded down with a crazy process of different chainsaws. Eventually it ends up as a smooth, singular piece of wood.

My fiancé helped me, she begrudgingly sat down and jammed a bunch of sticks into a door for a week and a half. It’s very meditative and then you get a splinter and you get sucked out of the meditative process.

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

What about that title?

I was reading “The Big Bear of Arkansas,” an odd folk book that was very whimsical for its time. The writer had a lot of beautiful quotes about nature and he was talking about how they could never find this bear and shoot it, how swiftly and quickly it moved through the forest. I take it as how easy it is for a tree to fall through a cobweb, and the impermanence of things, that trees fall down and then something else grows on top, and that is repeated forever. I’ve always been fascinated with civilizations and antiquity rising and falling and an infinite regress of things built on top of each other. That is overwhelming but very humbling and nurturing, too.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Contact this writer at

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