Belfast — Alan Magee of Cushing is this year’s featured guest speaker at the Festival of Art, an annual exhibition at the University of Maine’s Hutchinson Center in Belfast. He will present an illustrated talk followed by Q&A Saturday, May 18, from 1 to 3 p.m. in the UMH auditorium.
Magee has been creating art in a wide variety of media for many years including illustration, painting, sculpture, assemblage, monotype and tapestries. His slide show presentation will touch on all of these and, yes, the realist stone paintings many associate most with him will be well represented. But Magee also will share his latest direction, one that may take some by surprise — music video.
The moving image element of this new endeavor is not unprecedented; Magee experimented with film and video during his Philadelphia College of Art days, when fellow students included the twins who became acclaimed stop-motion animators The Brothers Quay. Magee and his wife Monika took a course at Camden’s former Center for Creative Imaging that bears fruit to this day.
“We took a seven-day workshop with Katrin Eismann that opened the door to this, the tapestries, books I’ve been able to design at home … because of what we were learning and because the tools were right there, we pretty much went round the clock for the week,” he said.
For a painter, digital manipulation of color was particularly exciting.
“If you have a painting you’ve been working on for awhile and you realize it’s a little too green, you’re kind of stuck! The digital work is such a powerful tool,” he said.
In recent years, film and video have gone to digital format, so that skill set, and his earlier background in animation and film, have enabled Magee to give “film” another try.
“I’d given up even attempting to make film in the ‘90s. People doing animation work with teams,” he said.
The annual Festival of Art, sponsored by Senior College at Belfast and the University of Maine's Hutchinson Center, is non-juried exhibition of work by Maine artists age 50 and older. It will open with a 6 to 8 p.m. reception Thursday, May 16, and continue Friday and Saturday, May 17 and 18, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, May 19, from noon to 3 p.m. at the Hutchinson Center, 80 Belmont Avenue/Route 3.
This year, 155 Maine artists, professional and amateur, will show their work. Featured artist, whose work may be seen on the poster, is Rebecca Rivers of Searsport. In addition to Magee’s talk, special events include the annual RSU 20 Student Show, which will open with a 10 a.m. to noon reception Saturday. Admission to the entire festival is free and open to all.
But last year, he felt the need to address his growing concern about violence. The shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in Florida, and the initial non-arrest of his shooter, shook the artist; and the Newtown, Conn., shootings added to his unrest. What is going on? How did we get to this point, he wondered. Magee is no stranger to making social commentary with his art; his compelling series of monotype “faces” was sparked initially by the Gulf War, and last year he shared Waterfall Arts’ “War on Peace” show with Robert Shetterly. But looking for a way to address gun violence has led him down a different path.
Back in college days, Magee and a friend played guitar and sang in coffeehouse and on a riverboat in New Hope, Pa. Magee had not played or performed in years when he took his old guitar in hand last summer to do a takeoff of “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” for a Cushing recycling event. Then he decided to give social commentary via music another try. A longtime fan of musical activist Phil Ochs, he crafted a song that uses gentle but pointed satire to provoke a rethinking of gun culture.
With the song in hand, Magee created the first in what may become an oeuvre of music videos. The visuals make use of images from past art works, digital collage and video footage, some of the latter shot by California sculptor and friend Al Farrow.
“I needed imagery of assault weapons and he uses them in his art, so I asked him to put together some scenes for me,” said Magee.
The result is a 2:41-minute video that can be seen on Magee’s Vimeo page. He said it has been interesting to bring together work and ways of artistic expression from different times in his life on the project — the music he was doing as a teen and assemblages from his 30s among them.
“The way I look at it, this fabric of what you can do is in your grasp and you can fold it and it touches in different places,” he said.
This is a better analogy for him than the perhaps more expected way of an artist’s progression, of one stage leading to another and beyond. The breadth of Magee’s explorations just does not lend itself to that kind of flow chart.
“You have these pictures that are almost reverential to nature and then a work of social protest … Homogenize? It’s never going to happen,” he said.
What is happening now, for him and for any artist, amateur or professional, is the ability to share one’s work with the world. The Internet and social media make it possible to “show” in a way that had not been possible a decade ago and Magee thinks that’s a good thing.
“I think it’s important for artists to look into these new media and see what’s in it for themselves,” he said. “It’s really better to be more autonomous, it’s empowering.”
Magee said he feels that the video work harkens back to his first success as an artist, as an illustrator doing book covers and pieces for the New York Times Magazine and such that reflected the push and pull of the politics of the time. Music also had been an important part of his life years ago and he had just set it aside, as far as his art was concerned.
“I had been neglecting a whole realm of personal expression … the added energy can change everything,” he said.
Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.