It's a respectable feat of artistry, what Mace has accomplished in three incredibly productive decades, especially considering the limited fanfare of its occurrence. For the latter two decades the absentee New Yorker hasn't even exhibited in his hometown, although a Tribeca showroom houses available artwork viewable by appointment. Mace's 2012Pen Pal exhibition in San Francisco was his most recent in the US. Mace hand-wrote explanations for each work of art onto antique postcards, as if writing to a friend from afar, and displayed them alongside respective artworks. Invisible Ink was his most recent exhibition in Japan; since then, Mace has mostly forgone exhibiting. As for social media, Mace considers himself a ''conscientious objector'', careful about ingratiating himself on the internet overall, and maintains only a modicum of presence via his own websites. It's a clear example of how the internet is not the final word on all happenings of the world. A three-part online retrospective hardly makes up for missed coverage.
It was originally intended to wrap up this retrospective with Mace's Ena Castle, being built as an artist retreat in the mountains of central Japan but, in the end, Mace requested that we instead focus on The Ballpoint Summit group exhibition he is curating. Set to take place in Tokyo during the city's 2020SummerOlympics, Mace hopes it to be the ballpoint pen art exhibition to set the standard for any which might follow, to attract attention to the medium and, just as the Olympics, showcase as many renown practitioners as he can get on board. Few, if any, are as qualified as Mace to curate such an ambitious exhibition.
Stay tuned for three more decades・
In 2004 another new patron granted Mace the use of a spacious lounge
in Tokyo, given their walls to do as he pleased. Mace used the opportunity
to spread his good fortune, and turned his creative eye toward producing
exhibitions of Japanese artists and photographers who might not otherwise
have had a chance. The result was the Living Room; a lounge/gallery
furnished casually with sofas, plants—comforts of home—and arranged
so customers could also freely peruse the artwork. An ideal setting;
potential buyers could view the artwork as it might appear in their own home.
Mace curated twenty some-odd exhibitions, including two for art prodigies
under his tutelage. Naturally, Mace also used this new outlet to exhibit his
own work; twice a year during his Living Room's three-year run, in between
exhibits at the Isetan department store gallery, his regular outlet in Tokyo.
Throughout this period, Mace used his new bag of tricks and unorthodox mediums to breath new life into traditional Japanese crafts by infusing all he'd absorbed during his time in Japan with his existing catalogue of ideas and interests, forming his own brand of art deco steampunk-psychedelia. Japanese room partitions ('byōbu') traditionally constructed of fine woodwork and washi paper were re-imagined using a hardware and CD picture disc motif (pictured). A limited series of clocks matched the aesthetic, as did a trio of Womannequins Mace handcrafted as part of a window display commission (one pictured, right), one of which won an international design award. Chrome and wood end-tables Mace designed in 2006 were commercially reproduced in Japan for several years (pictured, right).
Such offshoot works had nothing to do with Mace's drawing abilities except that preliminary designs were always worked out on paper, in ballpoint. But aside from technical drawings mapping out interior/exterior designs and the fabrication of objects, he kept drawing for himself, too. Along with the normal flow of fresh ideas, elements of imagery Mace had drawn onto the entry walls of the Viewseum began reappearing in derivative drawings, copied or embellished upon for reapplication to the new surfaces he'd started using. Electric Aztec, an image which would not be out of place in an ancient Aztec temple, was among the first of his Viewseum images to be rebooted. Redrawn onto a ''slice'' of cherry tree (2004 pictured, top), it is also one of the first instances of Mace applying ballpoint to wood. As with its original incarnation as Viewseum entry wall art, hardware also made the transfer. Nuts-and-bolts hardware plays a part in all of Mace's Viewseum reboots, and has remained a common element since then. Wood, too; often cross-section slices of tree, with bark intact along either edge. ''It's hard and soft at the same time,'' he explains of drawing on wood. ''It soaks up the ink, so you have to lay down thicker layers, but the outcome is richer; adds translucency as the layers soak in.'' Continues BELOW ...
Introduction of denim as a viable drawing surface had more homegrown origins for Mace: he'd been drawing on his own jeans and denim jackets since he was a kid. On denim, he says, ''It's easier to lose the linework''. Again Mace targeted a Japanese tradition which gelled with his choice of materials: scrollwork ('kakejiku'), replacing sumi ink and washi paper with ballpoint and denim. During visits to the US, Mace collaborated with his father, an upholsterer, to fabricate the scrolls, using the legs of his own faded jeans and reconfiguring pockets, belt loops, hemlines and inseams to fill out the designs.
Use of more simplified ballpoint penwork was necessary to suit the coarser texture of denim, meaning Mace had to sacrifice his trademark detail for imagery which could be appreciated from farther away—birds, cats (pictured), and the like; the kind he'd also applied as temporary tattoos to skin. For his Lovebirds Kiss scroll (2006, pictured), he borrowed bird details from murals decorating the ancient Mayan site of San Bartolo. Mace borrowed from himself, too. An Asian-style dragon motif originally drawn on paper bred two offshoots: a limited production of designer jeans for fashion designer Michiko Koshino's Yen Jeans label bore Mace's dragon silkscreened onto one leg (2006), and
Mace also had a one-off embroidered version created as a denim scroll.
Artwork, above : She Awase (Japanese kanji design, shiawase, 幸) 2003, media graffiti, ballpoint on advertisement ; Right : Pussycat Playground, Midnight, 2011, ballpoint on wood. Slideshow, below-left : Nubian Guard tapestry; Legs (Running), 2011, ballpoint on wood ; Mother Nature is a Fickle Playmate, ballpoint & hardware on wood ; Slideshow, below-right : Toy Car series, 2006~ (Prototype, 2004; Taxi, 2006; Horse Power, 2006 & 2011) ballpoint & hardware on wood. Artwork © Lennie Mace
Ancient art motifs had become more prevalent by 2006, a byproduct of Mace's longtime interest in so-called Ancient Astronaut theories. Masterpiece ballpoint PENtings such as Uchuu Neko Parade (Alien Cat Parade, 2005) and CosPlayStation:2011 have many such elements tucked ambiguously into the scenes. With no artistic intent at the time of their creation, these themes coalesced into the body of work which would become his INKA exhibition (2009). INKA was the first of a handful of exhibitions centering on a chosen theme, something Mace had never done, and, until then, never cared to do.
While so many artists get stuck, even trapped, churning out what satisfies public expectations and popular demand, Mace's work evolves with his own interests and experiences... while remaining interesting. Ballpoints remain a trusty constant, but by testing the limits of the pens and occasionally letting them take a back seat altogether to explore other methods and mediums that satisfy his own creativity, Mace is able to refresh himself for when he returns to the drawing board, which is just as often the drawing floor, bed, or a portable piece of plexiglass Mace calls his ''laptop''. ''If I ran out of new ideas today,'' Mace asserted during a 2006 interview promoting his Imagine Nation exhibition, ''I have enough of a backlog to last several lifetimes''. By all evidence thus far, a valid claim.
Mace also created so much artwork with recreation, or 'play ',
as a uniting theme that there was enough to fill two Play Pen
exhibitions at two separate galleries in Tokyo (2011). The full
range of Mace's output was on display—denim, tapestries,
wood, Media Graffiti, et al—presenting figures running,
jumping, swinging, and much more. Among the highlights was a new toy car series, drawn in ballpoint onto blocks of wood which Mace jigsawed into the shapes of sports cars, sedans, taxis and other unclassifiable models (pictured, right). Mace was prepping artwork for the first Play Pen exhibition when Japan's triple disaster of 2011 occurred (earthquake; tsunami; nuclear meltdown). He had already cut the shapes for a new set of cars, but after witnessing the aftermath of the tsunami and seeing cars piled up like toys in the debris field, Mace cut up a few of his cars and pieced them together into one pile to commemorate the event (pictured, left).
At his Invisible Ink exhibition (2015) Mace formally debuted his
''dry pen'' technique in a series of drawings using ballpoints with no ink, just blank linework pressed into the paper. The drawing can only be seen when lit from extreme angles. It was not only one of Mace's sharpest ''left turns'' but also one of the most innovative uses of ballpoints in some time.
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Mace improvised on most elements of the Viewseum entry murals, including the drawings, so most figures were positioned and proportioned to fit into available space—arms or legs were impossibly extended, or omitted altogether—but he'd been drawing that way all of his life. The figure which would become known as Nubian Guard, Electrical Receptacle, among those added later, was positioned low on the wall abutting an electrical outlet. Presented in profile as with ancient Egyptian bas-relief figures, Mace's Nubian is all-legs up to its neck, with actual stainless steel washers and screws at its joints. Nubian 's reincarnation would come in the form of a tapestry (pictured). Since 2002, Mace had been collaborating with Hideo Yamakuchi, an artist from a family of tapestry makers ('orimono'), and Nubian suited the medium. To create the tapestries, hi-def digital photos or scans of original art were fed into a computerized loom which wove colored silk threads into perfect replicas; no printing involved. All details, even the hardware and electrical outlet, appear on the tapestry just as they do on the wall.
RETROSPECTACLE by E. Lee, with R. Bell posted March 12, 2018
Lennie Mace・Tokyo, Japan
Decade 3 : 2004-2014 Ballpoint PLUS
Click on an image above to read the fully archived article.
All artwork in this article © Lennie Mace/THE LAB
・ lenniemace.com presents a ticker tape scroll of artwork, c.1998-2011
・ lenniemacemarket.com presents goods for sale.
Mace promises updates to both websites on a more regular basis.
A comprehensive book documenting Mace's artwork & art life in far greater detail than space permits here is slated for publication in time for Mace's 2020 Summer Olympic Ballpoint Summit group exhibition in Tokyo.
The Ballpointer will report the book's release and the exhibition.
Artwork, from the top : Electric Aztec, 2004, ballpoint pen & hardware on wood ; Above-right : Room Partition 1, 2004, compact discs & hardware on wood ; Left, Denim Scroll slideshow :
Cat Scratch & Lovebirds Kiss, both 2006, ballpoint pen on denim (*also: Lovebirds ' Mayan source material); Right : Womannequin 3, 2004 (two views) hardware, computer parts, fiber optics, fiberglass (*also: table& matching floor design, 2006). Artwork © Lennie Mace
Continuing from ABOVE ... Japanese kanji designs also became part of Mace's ballpoint-on-wood oeuvre, and another offshoot business; family names and stand-alone kanji characters such as ''happiness'' (pictured) drawn in flowing, calligraphic ballpoint linework. The designs were a natural evolution of Mace's understanding and mastery of font design dating back to his involvement with New York graffiti artists of the early 1980s.
By 2004, Lennie Mace had been mastering the artistic capabilities of ballpoint pens for over two decades and working with them professionally for nearly as long, producing groundbreaking 'wow'-worthy halftone effects which show little trace of the ballpoint line-work used in their creation; his so-called 'PENtings'. Mace had always been one of the few true ballpoint purists—an artist whose body of work consists mostly, if not completely, of ballpoint pen usage—but during the early years of the 21st century his creative instincts would manifest in ways that matched, and sometimes superseded, his mastery of the pen.
In the wake of publicity stirred up by the 2002 opening of his Tokyo Viewseum came a wave of interest attracting new patrons with grander commissions. Mace hadn't solicited attention to the Viewseum himself but, being work commissioned as a salon interior, the patron did. Soon enough, word simply got around about the salon-with-a-view. Mace elaborated upon design details from the Viewseum to fill requests for commissions, and there happened to be plenty of design details and commissions—whole brass sections-worth of trumpets, flugelhorns, cornets and tubas hand-crafted into light fixtures, even a chandelier; Walls completely resurfaced with CD and vinyl picture-discs, affixed using artful arrangements of washers and other stainless steel hardware; walls, doors and ceilings wallpapered in a collaging of magazine pages, fabrics, stickers and, again, hardware.
Finding new things to do and new ways to do them using new tools and materials further fueled Mace's already-voracious appetite to create. Output exploded in every direction, leading him into a prolific period which continues to bear fruit. A one-man renaissance had been set into motion, but unless you were in direct contact with Mace or his circle of supporters you might never have known about much of it. It was all a publicists dream, but by that time Mace was already quietly enjoying a career of his own and feeling less-inclined, in his own words, to ''pander''.
Japan correspondent E. Lee wraps up his online
retrospective of illustrious ballpointer Lennie Mace with this long-awaited Part 3 of 3, bringing us up to date
with his career between 2004 and now—decade three and into decade four for Mace as a professional artist—
during which additions of new techniques, new materials, new projects and overall maturation blossomed.
Since 2014・Volume 7
RETROSPECTACLE by E. Lee, with R. Bell originally posted March 12, 2018
Lennie Mace・Tokyo, Japan
Decade 3 : 2004-2014 Ballpoint PLUS