Friday, May 15, 2009

Stephen Magsig : until May 23, George Billis Gallery, New York

For more information go to George Billis Gallery

To view Stephen Magsig's daily paintings blog go to Postcards from Detroit

In The Real Art World interviews Stephen Magsig about his recent exhibition at George Billis Gallery, New York

Stephen Magsig in front of Last Light, 2009, oil on linen, 48x36in

In The Real Art World: What is the Stephen Magsig story, how have you and your art arrived at this point?

Stephen Magsig:: I was first introduced to oil painting at the age of 10 by my Aunt, Justine Magsig who is a painter and lived near our farm in Northern Ohio. After serving in Vietnam I went back to college in Technical Illustration and also took commercial art classes. I worked in illustration for about 25 years to earn a living while learning how to paint. I started showing in Detroit in the 1980's.

In 1995 we took a trip to New York City and I fell in love with the buildings and excitement of the city. We started subletting an artist loft for a month or two every year which really helped us to advance in NY. I entered a group show at the Chuck Levitan Gallery that was juried by the legendary Ivan C. Karp and was accepted. I had my first solo show at the Chuck Levitan Gallery in SOHO.

I started showing with The George Billis Gallery in 2001 when my wife, Janet Hamrick, also an artist, was picked up by him. After looking at her work, he then turned to me and asked "what do you do" after showing him images of my paintings I was also picked as a gallery artist.

I feel I am really self taught, I have spent my life as an artist and have improved by hard work and looking and learning from all the great artist's that have come before me. I enjoy the process of making art in all it's aspects and enjoy carrying on the traditions of realist painting.

Shadows on Greene Street, oil on canvas, 48 x 40", 2009

In The Real Art World: How do you go about finding the subjects for your paintings and what do you really look for when assessing it’s potential to make it as a painting?

Stephen Magsig:: I mostly work from images that are composed and photographed to be paintings. So every shot has the potentical of becoming a painting. Detroit is not a walking city so I drive around until I see some thing that interests me and stop and take shots to work from.

I may shoot hundreds of photos in one day. In NY we walk the city looking for subjects to shoot.. The NY shots are usually closer in and mostly vertical in format where the Detroit images are square or horizontal in format. My favorite areas in NY are Tribeca, the cast iron district of SOHO, The lower East side and the West Village. I like the lower Manhattan areas the best.
I have over 25 years of Detroit photos and 15 years of NY photos. It is always a mystery to me why one subject reaches out to me on any given day, I may look at an image for years with no response, then one day it is the one that excites me to create a painting using that image. I can only think it has to do with where I am at that particular time in my life, the image is really a reflection of my mental mood. It is really hard to explain, but so far I have always been able to find something that grabs me.

Brooklyn Bridge Reflections, 2009, oil on linen, 30x24in

In The Real Art World: Is there a nostalgic aspect to your paintings? Even though the locations exist now, there seems to be a preference for older buildings and of scenes not cluttered by the visual pollution of trivial advertising.

Stephen Magsig:: I feel I have more respect and more in common with traditional artists from the past, regardless of the subject they painted. The urban subject is a vehicle for me to communicate to others. As Hopper said " if I could say it in words I wouldn't have to paint" I do like to par it down to the simplest essence, so I do edit the photos to suit me, just as if I was on site painting. The photo is information for me to work from, not to copy verbatim.

I do have a preference for things that have a patina of life to them, the new and shiny does not interest me as much as a building that has been used and or abused, or forgotten. There is more interest and mystery. I like to paint things with a history and a story, even if I do not know the story I can still have a sense of it. Empathy is something that I feel is very important in life today.

Some of the paintings I do are of buildings or scenes that change or have been torn down. I feel I am also recording a time in Detroit, a visual record for better or worse. Detroit is a tough city and we are used to getting through hard times. There is a very vibrant art scene here.

Moulin Bleu, 2009, oil on canvas, 62x48in

In The Real Art World: Your small paintings blog, Postcards from Detroit allows you to try out a variety of ideas for paintings as well as releasing affordable work to the public. Do you find the process of making these small paintings ends up informing your larger work in ways not expected?

Stephen Magsig:: Working with the small paintings has been a lot of fun and a real learning experience. After doing 600 paintings, if you are working hard, thinking and learning you will be a much better painter.

I look often at Julian Merrow-Smith's Postcard from Provence paintings, and he just keeps getting better with every one. It is also a way to reach an audience from all over the World that would not be able to see your work another way. I have also had the privilege of meeting great artist;s from all over the world.

As to the larger works the smaller ones have helped me mostly in composition and in arranging the masses in a painting. How to know what to leave in and what to change or leave out, what to simplify. It has made the larger works stronger, abet a few less each year, which I think is a good thing. I don't want to flood the market with larger works, I do about 18-24 larger works a year which I think is about right for me.

Prince Street Reflections, 2009 oil on linen, 30x24in

In The Real Art World:Tell me about your working process, how an idea becomes a finished painting?

Stephen Magsig:: After deciding on an image to paint. I print out the image in proportion to the canvas size I will use. I use a large proportional grid on the printed image and on the canvas. This is a way for me to keep things in proportion and straight as I have a astigmatism, and everything would lean to the left without vertical guide lines. I do my drawing with thin paint and a brush rather than with a pencil. On larger works I will under paint the masses while drawing. I work from dark to light. The small painting are done in one setting, I like painting wet into wet. I can control edges more that way. On the larger works I try to do certain color sections in one setting just like the smaller works, so I can control the paint without having to overpaint. I feel this keeps the paintings fresh and not overworked. Working on each section until I am happy. I will mix up a very large range of colors for what I am painting at that setting. A range of colors from warm to cool and then each of these light to dark and added reflective colors in the same value. This allows me to put more color into an area without having to mix. I can also intermix this palette and the colors stay harmonious. I can also have more freedom to use warm and cool colors within a certain value to give an area more life or color perspective. On a typical larger painting I will work on the shadow areas of a section first and then add the sunlit areas and then add the highlights. Working on each area until all is complete. I then finish off the painting making any color correction or perspective changes and finally adding the last few highlights.

I do work from a computer screen and from the printed image. I use the printed image to do the drawing and refer to the screen for color and detail. The screen is near my painting and I use it as a tool for gathering information and color.

White Street, 2009, oil on canvas, 42x36in

In The Real Art World: Who are the artists that at the moment you are looking at, or find their work resonates for you?

Stephen Magsig:: There are so many it is hard to single out a few, I really like all GOOD artwork regardless of subject or style.

I really like Alyssa Monks work as she is a great painter. Her brush work and color is incredible. Ben Aronson, Martha Armstrong, Joan Mitchell, Jeremy Lipking, Francis Livingston. are a few I like.
Also I am always looking at Hopper, Fairfield Porter, Bonnard, Matisse, Whistler, Diebenkorn, Ralph Wickiser, Eric Fischl, Robert Ryman, Edwin Dickenson, Rackstraw Downes, and Bob Thompson among others.

With the daily painters I am always learning from Julian Merrow-Smith's and Don Gray's work. I also like Pierre Raby, Edward B. Gordon, Sheila Vaughan and Regis Pettinari.

164 Red, oil on canvas, 24 x 20", 2007

In The Real Art World: I'm always curious of which colors make up the palette used by the artist, can you list them for me?

Stephen Magsig:: I really like Williamsburg paints, favorite colors: Indigo, Titanium White, Unbleached Titanium, Raw Umber, Naples Yellow, Persian Rose, Provence Violet Bluish, Cobalt Blue, Cadmium-Green, Yellow & Red, Mars Yellow, Black, and Orange.

Wooster and Grand, 2009, oil on canvas, 62x48in

In The Real Art World: Finally, what's next?

Stephen Magsig:: I will continue with the small paintings. I have two shows I am working towards in 2010, a Spring show of Industrial paintings at the David Klein Gallery in Birmingham, MI and Architectural Realism, a three person Museum show in the fall of 2010 at The Washington County Museum of Fine Art in MD.


Unknown said...

Very interesting interview and artist - thanks Jim.

ruth said...

lovely to see you here Stephen, and to learn (even) more about you. Keep it up!!!

Carol H. said...

Great to find this blog! Thanks for introducing me to new realist artists, I especially liked this interview where the artist describes his methods.

Patrice Erickson said...

Great interview. I was lucky enough to meet both Stephen and his wife Janet; both wonderful artists and extremely nice people.

Unknown said...

Dolores Paskal said...Really enjoyed reading this interview, Stephen. Have looked at and been drawn to your paintings for years, but these additional words illuminated my imaging. It is exciting seeing the colors you are introducing as well as the shadows that highlight many of the paintings. Glad you and Janet are getting a larger audience for your wonderful work.

José Carrilho (Go Detail) said...


I've come to conclusion that is not rare for realistic painters to work as illustrators before pursuing a professional career in fine art.
His work is magnificent and that Provence Violet Bluish got me really curious, namely because some of his paintings have a wonderful bluish tone.

Kind regards,


Sheila Vaughan said...

Since I started "daily painting" in 2006, Stephen Magsig has been up there in my top five "greats". His work conveys an strong emotion which is often lacking in modern realism. Stephen's paintings have much more than a mere technical competence and I am always delighted and often moved when I look at his daily and larger work and the dignity he endows on the older buildings and industry of Detroit and surrounding areas.

John Farnsworth said...

Excellent interview. Great work. Sorry to have missed the show.