Roy McMakin (born 1956 Lander, Wyoming) is a Seattle-based artist, designer and furniture maker. His furniture bridges the gap between art and design. Some of his pieces are entirely non-functional like Untitled (Wooden Toilet), which, as its title suggests, is an unpainted wooden toilet that serves most usefully as a witty conversation piece more so than an actual toilet. Many of his pieces are inspired by visual and verbal puns and other conceptual conceits: a boudoir in which every drawer is painted a different shade of white and every drawer knob is a slightly different size; or a white shag rug with a black square at its center that has had a quarter of its area shaved away showing that in order for the graphic flatness of the square to be realized, black thread must permeate the entire thickness of the rug, drawing our attention to the three-dimensionality of something that we ordinarily perceive as two-dimensional. McMakin’s art forces us to focus on the ontological complexities of furniture that, while it occupies the same space as sculpture, is not culturally recognized as such. Another example would be his Untitled (Writing Table and Chair), which, while fully functional, is painted a bright pink, making the table and chair appear more as an objet d'art than an actual desk. McMakin's furniture designs first came to public attention in 1987 through his Domestic Furniture showroom on Los Angeles' Beverly Boulevard. That store closed in 1994 when he moved to Seattle to be closer to the woods with which he was working, but selected pieces from that period are still manufactured by his Seattle workshop.
According to curator Michael Darling, McMakin’s intellectual tack to furniture was informed by his artistic education at the University of California, San Diego, which “was a hotbed of artistic engagement with the everyday. From Allan Kaprow, inventor of the Happening, to domestic conceptualist Eleanor Antin, environmental art pioneers Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison… the UCSD faculty espoused boundary-breaking, experimental approaches to art-making.” This boundary-breaking extends to McMakin's growing body of architectural work with his firm Domestic Architecture. Beginning with remodels of homes and office spaces in the 1990s, the artist now has a portfolio of ground-up houses that take his artistic concerns to a new level of ambition and complexity. Notable within the contemporary architectural scene, McMakin's homes freely embrace vernacular idioms, but utilize them in a way that is neither ironic, nostalgic, nor ideological. Borrowing from a wide variety of sources to best address the site, climate, or client's taste and personality, the homes are as engaging to "read" and "deconstruct" from an intellectual standpoint as they are intuitively functional. McMakin's architecture neatly dovetails with his other pursuits in furniture and sculpture, held together by an overarching investigation of how perception influences meaning.
McMakin has been the subject of exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle; and the Portland Art Museum. In 2010, Skira Rizzoli published a comprehensive monograph on McMakin, When Is a Chair Not a Chair. He is represented by the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York
- Michael Darling, Roy McMakin: A Door as Meant as Adornment, (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2003), 4.
- Darling, Michael. Roy McMakin: A Door Meant as Adornment. Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2003.
- Johnson, Ken. “Art in Review; Roy McMakin.” New York Times, October 21, 2005, sec. E.
- McMakin, Roy. Charming Homes for Today: Drawings by Roy McMakin, 1996-2002. New York: Matthew Marks Gallery, 2003.
- McMakin, Roy. A Month of Drawings in the Cursive Style! New York: Matthew Marks Gallery, 2003.
- Yapelli, Tina. Roy McMakin: A Slat-back Chair. San Diego: San Diego State University, 2005.
- McMakin, Roy. When is a Chair Not a Chair? New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2010.