New American Century, 1987, monotype

Alan Magee: From the Underground River

Center for Maine Contemporary Art

by Philip Isaacson, 2007

 

Writing about Alan Magee has a coals-to-Newcastle quality. So much has been written about him, and certain of his works are so well known and so prominently and permanently displayed that additional comment by me is superfluous. Nevertheless, I urge anyone who responds to thoughts about the frailties of human nature—as exemplified by our sad carcasses—to see this large exhibition; in particular, the monotypes.

 

Magee’s skill as a fascimilator of beach stones and stamped and cancelled postcards brought him to public attention. In this regard his accomplishments are almost astonishing, but I would not ask you to make this journey to Rockport for their purpose. Opportunities to see [these paintings] come and go; you can wait your time to be dazzled by them. 

 

Opportunities to see From the Underground River (the title of Magee’s exhibition at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art) do not come and go, and in contradistinction to the facsimiles will not attract a general audience. They are, however, a contribution to the serious meditation on the state of our humanity undertaken over the years by a string of visual artists.

 

It is not a popular enterprise and not one that concerns many artists. In fact, with the death of Leonard Baskin it was not apparent to me who might carry on his appraisals of our society and maintain his hope—slight as it might be—for something redemptive.

 

I would not place that burden on Mr. Magee, but in this intense and unsettling exhibition I accept Alan Magee as an artist of concern, insight, and remarkable skill who appears to have moved no small way toward that status. Magee can rip apart the human figure and show it for the poor sack of guts that it is—almost corrupt by nature and in its actions.

 

In all of this I am not talking about social conscience—we have artists who feel deeply about social issues and who show that concern in their work. I am talking about something that touches upon a fundamental level of thought about human existence. This is an important and disturbing exhibition and a great credit to the Center for Maine Contemporary Art.