Culture

A Conversation with Macy Rajacich, Muralist and Hunter Student

At only 22, artist Macy Rajacich has painted murals from Minneapolis to New York City, designed logos for major organizations, including Hunter’s Office of the Arts, and currently works for the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art. 

Rajacich uses oil paint to create complex and symbolic self-portraits, similar to those of Frida Kahlo, that explore her existence and the political factors surrounding her identity as a queer woman of color.

A senior, Rajacich majors in painting, minors in Africana studies and is completing a certificate in arts management. She is currently applying to Hunter’s BFA program. 

I spoke with Rajacich over Zoom about her artistic process and recent creative projects.

Olivia Baldacci: What inspires you to create art?

Macy Rajacich: I’d say that what inspires me to create art is just living in the everyday. It’s a lot of hard work. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was gonna be, or it’s harder than I thought it was gonna be because you have to always continue painting and keep practicing. Inspiration sometimes feels finite. I didn’t have anything to paint or draw during the summer. But now that I’m busier, it forces me to make something because this is your only time to do that. So I personally forced myself to create something even though it’s shit. You’re still making something and that is something to be proud of.

OB: Do you have any artists you’re inspired by?

MR: I sometimes don’t like to say it, like an embarrassing thing. But I was a huge fan of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, only because when you’re a kid, you’re just like, oh my God, colors and like, oh my God, like, it’s so exciting! Because everything that you learn when you’re a kid is all dull colors. And I was like, I don’t get it. I did not like history when I was younger. Like they would literally show us Frida Kahlo, and I’d be like, ‘What is this?’ I didn’t get it. And now she’s one of my favorite artists, but as a child, you are attracted to different things. So mine was very much Keith Haring, and then over time, now I’ve gone like, yeah, I love Frida Kahlo. I love Matisse. Kara Walker was someone within the past five years I’ve really loved. I’m studying more about the African diaspora. There’s a whole other world that has opened up in terms of artists. So it’s like a small little portal was opened up just for African artists. I was like, OK, there’s so much more out there that I can learn and discover.

OB: Could you describe your artistic process?

MR: I usually go by personal assignments. This is what helps me keep going. I’ve tried the “I’m going to wait until inspiration strikes,” and that doesn’t work. If I don’t have it written down – I’m very much a Virgo. I need it on my calendar. If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. The main thing that I recommend to any creative person, whether that’s a painter, singer, illustrator, author, whatever: always carry a notebook with you at all times. Carry a notebook, carry a pen, always, always, always, because inspiration does just randomly strike. So with my own art, I write everything down and record everything. And then when I have time to sit down and reflect, I can sort of take in what I’ve written, puzzle pieces together. How do I want to visualize this? How can I pull everything together? Also, a big problem that I have with my art is trying to make everything cohesive. All of the people that I talked to, who are also painters, they’re like, that’s bullshit, you don’t need to do that; you’re exploring. But like, that’s something that I’ve been working on because I need to actually put together a project for the BFA program. 

OB: What themes do you frequently explore in your work?

MR: A lot of what I explore is self-identity. I don’t go to therapy so this is my therapy. I don’t think that that’s a good thing to advertise. I’m very much like, OK, we’re trying to figure out how we’re dealing with certain issues, I think that’s been consistent with my work since high school. My style has changed immensely, but I feel like that aspect of exploring self-identity has definitely been there. I’ve tried to be very political with my work because I am of Black descent. And I’m also a woman, and I am also queer. So it’s easy for me to be like, OK, we’re going to talk about Black identity, queer identity and female identity. And I’ve done work like that, where it’s very obvious that I’m talking about that, and people really like it. But it’s also not true to my own voice because sometimes my work isn’t very obvious, but it’s something that I understand, and some other people might understand. So I try not to be obvious. Because that’s not usually how I work. I’m very much someone who loves surrealism. I love very abstract ideas. I love very weird things. So it’s hard for me to be so clear and concise. If you feel something from my work, whether it’s positive or negative — if you feel something, that is good enough for me. 

OB: ​Could you tell me about your mural at the Brooklyn Plaza Medical Center?

MR: I was working for the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts. All three of us, Nikki “Snikka” Freyermuth, Audrey Lyall and I, worked on that mural together and designed it. It was very much a process because we have a lot of artistic minds, and it’s always tricky doing something like that, creating work for a specific space or a specific thing because you’re clashing between your artistic practice and something that’s for an organization. Audrey and I did a lot of drawing and then Snikka digitalized that and then created a composition that made sense. I think they started on the mural first because they were out of school at this point, and I was still in class. It was like sunup to sundown. I want to say that it might have taken, like, five days, I can’t remember at this point, but it was definitely back to back to back. I think it was the most fun part. The design portion was very difficult because it was a back and forth. I mean it’s a large-scale color by numbers. They took a projector and brought it across the street to project it on the wall. And they sketched it out with a pencil and then painted. It definitely was really special. 

A mural with an orange bakground and eight cartoonlike figures of varying ages with orange, dark blue-green, purple and yellow skin. Clouds and butterflies are overhead, and the sun is smiling. In big dark blue-green capital bubble letters, it says "TAKE IT EASY." In smaller capital letters elsewhere on the mural, it says "YOU GOT THIS," "KEEP GOING," and "JUST BREATHE."
MoCADA’s ‘Take It Easy’ mural on Fort Greene Place. Photo courtesy of Macy Rajacich 

OB: What is appealing to you about murals?

MR: I think what’s appealing is how public they are, and how they’re consumed by so many people. So people come upon it by chance and I think it’s a special moment. I definitely remember murals in the city that I stumbled upon. I don’t consider my work to be very straightforward. And it’s on my Instagram, that’s a sort of private scope. But murals are meant to be consumed by a larger audience and by the public. It’s supposed to be very accessible. So you have to think really hard about the mural design. What does that mean? What are you trying to say? It can’t be super ambiguous. I like the accessibility portion and I love the scale of it. I love how some of them are also tucked away in the most random spaces. So that’s an art medium that I would not mind at all doing with my own work because it’s completely different from what I do. It’s a special thing. The Take It Easy mural, it’s a reminder, and it makes people feel good. It’s colorful so I like the reactions that people get from that. 

Rajacich climbing on a ladder, working on the mural before it is complete. At this stage, the mural has green, yellow, and red only, and only parts are filled out: for example, a figure's skin, but not their eyes and mouth. Some of the letters in "TAKE IT EASY" are filled but others are not. On the floor are paint buckets and a Target plastic bag.
Rajacich painting the mural.  Photo courtesy of Macy Rajacich 

OB: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

MR: One piece of advice that I’ve gotten before I even went to college was don’t go to art school, but if you really want to go to school, go to school for art. The difference being like, don’t pay $80,000 to go to some fancy arts institution. That’s why I chose Hunter. I’m going to this liberal arts college, and they have a good art department. It forces you to earn your spot there. At Hunter, you have to be like, OK, I think I’m an artist. I think I can do this. Even the BFA is humbling because you’re like, I’m just gonna apply and it’s like, no, you’re not, it takes a minute. You have to like creative work, you have to actually create a portfolio, you can’t just walk in. 

My biggest piece of advice would be to continue to make connections. If you’re coming here for artistic practice, you’re here to make connections with people, that’s what you’re paying for. All of my painting professors somehow know Romare Bearden, who is also one of my favorite artists. So many people are like, oh, yeah, I went to Romare Bearden’s apartment when we had art studio time. I’m like, what? But that’s when you’re like, OK, tell me more and let’s connect because that’s how I got my job, from my teacher putting my name out there. I’ve noticed in New York specifically you get jobs based on your connections. Do you know the right people? And can they get you there? So don’t be afraid to give out your Instagram. Like, that’s cheesy, I still cringe. But people get so used to giving that out and that’s how your art is displayed. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself.

OB: Where can people find your work?

MR: People can find my work on my Instagram and my website.

Edited for clarity and length

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