Artist Profile: Michael Mahaffey

By Jed Sanders.

Marilyn Monroe has risen from the dead and she is pissed!

Frida Kahlo has joined up with the Star Wars rebel forces, who have allied with an army of monkeys, who are planning a blood bath attack on Tiffany’s…

My god!

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I just smoked some pretty incredible weed or I’m front and center at one of the most outrageous art shows of this month’s featured local artist — Mr. Mahaffey.

Michael Mahaffey is an emerging San Diego artist to seriously look out for. His artwork is refreshing to view and surreal in content with a juxtaposed mix of pop culture icons of yesteryear and the macabre gone terribly wrong. Many of his paintings are quite bold and ridiculously witty with a lot more going on than meets the eye at first glance. He recently had a couple of art shows to display some of his new, incredible works at the Bamboo Lounge in Hillcrest and the Thumbprint Art Gallery in North Park.

Where are you from?
Most recently, Tucson, AZ. However, I grew up in Fairfax, VA, a suburb of Washington D.C.

How did you find your way out to San Diego?
I did a lot of traveling after I graduated from college. I had my degree in Illustration and wanted to wander around a bit, living off my art and whatever odd jobs I could pick up. I’m an 80’s kid that grew up watching way too many movies, who always dreamed of living in California one day…so I decided to make it happen.

What is your art background and how long have you been making art?
Professionally, I’ve been showing my artwork around the U.S. since ‘01. I’m always working on new images, and when I have enough new pieces, I look for venues to show. I do hold a BFA in Illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design. However, I started out as a film major, but fell more in love with fine art while I was in school. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been making art; I was always drawing on anything I could get my hands on. Looking back at old homework assignments, you can see drawings all over the blank areas of my papers and work.

What do you feel is one of the most rewarding benefits of creating art?
I always tell people that art is like therapy I get paid for. It’s great to finally be at a place where my artwork is helping me make a living, but it’s something that I would be doing regardless; I’m addicted to everything about it. I love how it feels to sketch out an idea and let it evolve; I love the hours I put into crafting a piece and watching that idea become solid. That feeling of accomplishment I get from completing a piece is such a rush. Basically, I love the positive feelings that art consistently provides every step of the way.

What kind of mediums do you most enjoy creating art with?

For a long time, I only worked in dry media, like pencils and pastels. I loved how lush and smooth you could make your image, plus they are erasable, which allows you to work a little loose and then clean up the mistakes. When I lived in Tucson, I was really frustrated with how boring and “cliquey” the galleries were. I figured if no one would show my work, I could take it to the streets. I started working on stencils with a friend of mine, and we would hit the streets of Tucson late at night with our stencils and spray paint. Eventually, I started refining my technique and spraying on canvas instead of pavement.

What do you do for fun?

I’m an animal person, and hanging out with my dog is definitely at the top of the list. I’m also still relatively new to San Diego and plan on enjoying everything this area has to offer. I love how easy it is to jump in a car and take a road trip out to the desert.

Are there any artists out there that you really admire?

Barbara Kruger has been a favorite of mine for years — such a beautiful and bold style. She has things she wants to say and chooses intriguing images to drive the message home. I think she’s brilliant!

What is currently on your easel?

Nothing is on my easel because all my new stuff is too big! I love working small because it’s easy to transport while in progress or when heading to a venue. However, I recently had a request to create a larger version of one of my older stencils and it got me thinking about some other large pieces I could work on. I’m really into painting cultural icons, working with recognizable individuals, and offering up an alternate view to how they are normally seen. I love contradiction in general, mixing the ugly with the pretty and figuring out how to appreciate the outcome.

I noticed the piece you did with the mix of Frida Kahlo and Princess Leia of Star Wars. It was very striking and hard to forget. Could you elaborate more on that one?

When we decided to create the sci-fi themed show, I knew I wanted to include a couple pieces with Leia because I grew up loving her. She’s such a badass with a strong sense of right and wrong. I love the idea of a female revolutionary, especially a princess. The Frida piece came from my amazement at how many people are attracted to her work and for how long that adoration has been going on. I decided to do the Frida portrait with some of her typical elements, but I gave it a post modern spin. I layered it in symbolism partly because it’s fun, but also because it seemed appropriate for a piece dealing with her. It’s also fun to hear people’s reactions too; some people think the monkey is protecting Frida while others think the monkey is predatory and evil.

Are you available for commission work?
Absolutely! It’s an honor to help people bring their ideas to life on custom pieces.

How can someone purchase or see more of your artwork?

I have stuff up all over town, but I’m a regular at the Pure Boutique in Hillcrest — right under the Hillcrest sign ( – 451 University Ave.). The owner, Heather, is all about getting local names and merchandise out there, and she lets me hang my work there all the time. I can also be contacted through my website –

It was an absolute pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much for your time!

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

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