Written by Courtney Couch
Photographed by Julia Madden Sears
McKenzie attributes her early creativity to her grandparents' town of Eastover, which was “literally in the middle of nowhere.” She sat on their floor and painted on craft paper or constructed odd artifacts from Play-doh or Legos. “I always had things in my head I wanted to make real,” she says, “even though they weren't always things that really existed.”
The world of fantasy became more real to McKenzie once she and her twin sister began watching their father play the video game, The Legend of Zelda. At six years old, McKenzie's couldn't quite wrap her mind around the technicalities of what she was seeing, but the video game inspired her love of fantasy and, perhaps, fueled a rebellious streak. Eiji Aonuma, the artist for The Legend of Zelda, is her strongest influence.
She's amazed by Aonuma’s ability to conjure up “rough sketches with funny captions, huge elaborate map plans, and characters and creatures of every shape and size. He never seems to run out of ideas or styles, and they always turn out beautifully in the end.”
Just as Aonuma's art sparked her creativity, McKenzie’s art is intended to encourage others to expand their imagination. “I want to make imaginary things look so real that people won't know the difference.” That same independence translates into her favorite medium: Photoshop.
“It's not traditional, which bothers a lot of people, but it suits me.” By making people believe they're looking at an emotional portrait when they're actually looking at a simulation, McKenzie asks her viewers to consider how much of their world is really what they believe it to be.