Earlier this month, self-described “cold-ass honky” Macklemore added “art collector” to his long list of credentials when he purchased a surreal Justin Bieber nude from Minnesota artist Dan Lacey.
The painting depicts a glistening and innocent Justin lit up by a pancake moon’s light, staring at his own schlong, which has been replaced by a pancake. Above the pancake, syrup drips from his neck down his hairless, glistening chest.
A quick look at Lacey’s blog reveals that this is just one in a series of brilliant pieces of artwork that take politicians, pop stars, and pancakes on a wild ride far past parody and into something more absurd and wonderful.
There’s Donald Drumpf as Pancake Hitler. There’s Taylor Swift with a pancake on her head, exhaling a witchy gust of wind onto the world. There’s a nude Obama taking a historic trip to Cuba on a unicorn. You better believe Bernie’s been immortalized in a pancake portrait, too. Lacey’s painting skills are solid, but more importantly, there’s a sense of fun, weirdness, and wonder in each painting that makes it easy to get lost in his world.
This is hardly Lacey’s first brush with painting-related publicity. Aside from having many paintings go viral and appearing on late-night TV, Lacey was the subject of an in-depth City Pages story in 2009. Back then, we covered the origin of his pancake fascination and the controversy that came with his former conservative Christian-minded cartoon, Faithmouse. The strip was embraced by some conservatives, but enraged others thanks to a painting of George W. Bush getting a Bible slammed on his head.
But that’s all in the past for Lacey, whose self-described “fall from grace” led him away from the conservative community, and away from Faithmouse. Now he’s more focused on delighting the world with paintings like one depicting Kanye West wearing a founding fathers wig. But what does it all mean?!
We got Lacey on the phone from his home in Elko, Minnesota, to get answers to all the burning questions that have come with Macklemore’s Etsy purchase.
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City Pages: First of all, do you like Macklemore?
Dan Lacey: I like Macklemore. I liked the “Thrift Shop” song when it first came out. He’s the white Marvin Gaye. Are you familiar with “What’s Going On?" Doesn’t he have that vibe? I’m working on a Macklemore right now and I want to see if Justin Bieber will buy it. [Update: It's complete and available for purchase.]
CP: What inspires you more — the election or pop culture?
DL: I like doing the self-nudes more than anything. I’ve done hundreds of self-nudes. I’m very free from feeling like I’m following trends. I did a painting of myself in front of empty gold picture frames, standing in water up to my thighs. I called it my “Air Asia." It comes out of a personal place, out of my loss of faith.
CP: Tell us more about your crisis of faith.
DL: I have a hard time even remembering what the trigger was. I still have faith — I’m Catholic and so is my wife — but I have dark nights of the soul. Mother Teresa [who Lacey has painted] went through many dark nights of the soul.
The last 40 years of her life were one long dark night of the soul, but she did what she thought she should do even though she had no personal connection to God. I was saved in the early '90s, and my life changed quite drastically then. I had a real personal connection to God.
I lost that personal connection, you know? I don’t feel a personal connection, I really don’t. I have a feeling of spirituality, but I don’t know if it’s reality or chemicals. I’m happy to think it doesn’t matter and truth is relative. I can’t figure out the answers, so I paint.
CP: Where do you get ideas for your paintings?
DL: I do what I like and I do what feels right. All these things are colliding with one another: losses of faith, personal things, issues with my health. The food thing has a lot to do with the fact I have to watch every single thing I eat [Lacey has diverticulitis]. I’ve got that and comedy and people who don’t like my art because it’s comedy. A lot of people don’t accept art as comedy in the same way Canadians don’t win Academy Awards. All that collides.
CP: Are you skewering people in your paintings or do you genuinely like the people who you portray?
DL: It’s a commentary about the commentary. I bring my own stuff into it. Even if I don’t like the person or a certain thing, I’m incapable of doing a pure editorial cartoon. Whatever I do, it doesn’t mean what I originally intended it to mean. When I’m working on a painting, I will look at the painting and say this has to be a good painting. I’ll turn it sideways and say this area needs a big blue something and I’ll make blueberries. It becomes art.
CP: So they’re purposely absurdist rather than straightforward commentaries on people?
DL: Yes, absurdist … even the Christian conservative cartoons were absurd. Everything is absurd at a certain level.
CP: What are your politics now, if you don’t mind sharing? Do you like Bernie Sanders, whom you recently painted?
DL: Our centers have moved drastically. I feel this very deeply. Liberals do a better job of conserving what’s good in our country and culture than conservatives do. Russell Kirk believed the definition of a conservative is someone who protects that which is good.
Conservatives have thrown it all out the window for money. Liberals do a much better job of protecting what’s good. I’m very pro social programs. I know how much money the right has wasted. It hasn’t come back to us, all the money spent on wars. All that money could have gone back to us.
Obama's greatest mistake was not doing what Bernie is proposing for education or infrastructure. He should have done that instead of a bailout, or maybe a bailout with a lot of caveats where we’ll bail you out if you promise jobs in return. No strings, that was his major error … not laying down a philosophy, you know?
I’m pro Bernie. I will settle for Hillary. Trump is a horror. He’s a horror we haven’t seen. I have a Hitler Trump painting. I don’t like thinking about the guy.
CP: How were you trained? Do you have a day job?
DL: I’m self-taught. I’ve been painting since I was a kid. My medium is acrylic. I paint in the car whenever I’m able to. I’m working constantly. Oil paint is a bad idea in the car. What we do is, I have a whole bunch of pizza takeout things and I put the paint in there. I use that as my palette — Punch pizza takeout trays.
I’ve gone back and forth being able to do my work full time. I moved to Minnesota with my wife who’s a harpist. I did my art and fell back on that. I became sick and ended up in the hospital. My wife and I were so broke and I was so sick that I got a full-time job at a place close to where I live. Now I do both, prints and paintings. Financially we’re in better shape than I have been for a decade.
CP: What’s next for you, other than your Macklemore painting?
DL: What I’ve been doing lately is watching a lot of Justin Bieber videos. I have an idea for a Justin Bieber video based on the trailer for the new Ben-Hur. I’d like to have Justin Bieber in there as Spartacus with Jesus on the cross, except Jesus has Justin’s tattoos and Justin’s tattoos are gone. I’d like to paint it … I feel the image.
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So, Justin Bieber, we hope this article has compelled you to buy the Macklemore nude. Not only is it awesome, but it would add a magical sense of balance to the universe. And there’s a music video idea for you, courtesy of Mr. Lacey.
To Mr. Lacey, may we suggest a painting of Ariana Grande licking a doughnut? We’d buy it.