Thorpe applied in 1977 to study at the local Cleveland College of Art and Design, where he studied under Tom Wall, leaving two years later for the Byam Shaw College of Art in London, and a fine arts degree. After graduation in 1982, Thorpe remained in the capital to aid disadvantaged children. However, motivated by a desire to provide a better environment for his children to grow up in, Thorpe returned with his family to the North East in 1989. There, he set up Arthaus, a gallery in Richmond, North Yorkshire, which remains to this day.
His works are associated with a principle of "Art from the heart" – combining tenderness with fervency through his abstract depictions of animals and children. His work is wide ranging from the accessible 'square sheep' and duffle coat boys to more challenging work focusing on isolation and man's struggle. Much of his work depicts his childhood growing up in Middlesbrough.
Thorpe also holds an honorary Master of Arts degree, collected in 2000 from his hometown's Teesside University. In addition, Thorpe's and Arthaus' wish to support 'good causes' culminated in the launch of the Mackenzie Thorpe Foundation in 2005. In October 2006 Thorpe produced an exhibition of outdoor monumental sculptures in Kansas City, Missouri and intends to take similar concepts to New Zealand, Australia and the UK.
His auction record of £9,000, paid for his 91 cm square oil on canvas "The Family (Kiss)" was set at Tennant's auction house in Leyburn on 4 March 2009.