The Dayton artist's captivating exhibition is on display now at No Place Gallery

Several years ago, when Dayton artist Tyler Macko was on a road trip, he noticed signs advertising “the world’s biggest prairie dog.” The billboards for Prairie Dog Town went on for miles and miles of Kansas highway. So Macko decided to stop, and it was there he met a man named Larry Farmer.

Farmer was sitting at a desk, and he took Macko to see the purported prairie dog, which was also prominently featured on a doctored postcard that depicted the giant rodent spanning the tailgate of Farmer’s pickup truck.

“I love people that create their own utopia out of an idea. He created this entire world out of a Kansas field,” Macko said recently by phone from Dayton. “After I had the interaction with him, he kind of dissipated into ether — almost like it was not a real thing. But it was. … Creating the world's largest prairie dog — that thing doesn't exist, but in his mind, that thing is real. He does have the world's largest prairie dog, even though it's just a big cement blob, basically, with some spots painted on it that kind of looks like a prairie dog. But he created that thing, and it is real in his head.”

Larry Farmer became the namesake of Macko’s new exhibition, which recently opened at No Place Gallery, and which Macko began creating specifically for the space about six months ago in hopes that the four large, mixed-media pieces hanging on the white walls would give the impression that the space was built for the works, and not the other way around. “I really loved the movie and book The Borrowers when I was a kid, and I love when things become an environment around an object,” Macko said. “I like when you can stand away from something, get a good look at things and try to put yourself in that space.”

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After packing as much artwork as he could into an exhibition space when he was younger, Macko has learned that less is more when it comes to hanging his work on walls. “There's a level of importance that's placed upon something where it's like, ‘Wow, there's nothing in this room besides this painting, so this thing must have some sort of weight to it,’” he said.

These four pieces, though, could occupy a viewer for hours. Macko, a self-taught artist, refers to the items as “paintings,” but the intricately layered works incorporate wood, yarn, paint and other materials, which Macko often purchases from hardware stores or estate sales rather than art supply shops. “I don't know what else I would call them. I've never been one to try to church something up and make it seem like more than what [it is], like with materials lists, or when people get crazy with titles. It's just not my personality,” he said.

Macko grew up painting, and most of his favorite artists are painters, so despite using saws and yarn to create his pieces, he thinks in brush strokes. In the piece “Hog Creek,” for example, Macko incorporates long, green, curved shapes that he modeled after ancient burial mounds, but he visualizes the colors and forms as if they were applied with a paintbrush.

Surrounding the “Hog Creek” piece are skeletons, which Macko created using old pieces of plywood cut with a jigsaw and masonite cut with a bandsaw, on top of which he glued different shades of yarn with clear window caulk. “I've always loved the idea of domesticity and things that are accessible,” he said. “It doesn't have to be the most expensive oil paint.”

Macko grew up using tools in hobbies like skateboarding and motocross, both of which he hoped to turn into professional careers (though only after abandoning the idea of being a lighthouse keeper). When neither one panned out, he realized he wanted to be an artist. “It was like, ‘I'll either build decks for somebody, or I'll try to make these big paintings,’” Macko said.

That personal history makes its way into Macko’s work. In fact, it’s inextricably linked to the art he makes. Many of his pieces incorporate wells and rich black tones, which tie into his family’s history in the oil industry near Lima, Ohio.

“Everybody comes from something. Nothing is out of a vacuum. There are things before you, and there are things after you. We're all in this long, tethered line. It's why I use a lot of yarn, [referencing] all things being connected. And there's a lot of circles and cauldrons and wells, because I like the depths of things,” Macko said. “I just love the idea of recipes and things being made. All these things get put into this cauldron, and then you're born, and you're the latest culmination of all the stuff that was before you.”