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STONES, ©1981, acrylic on canvas, 46 x 68"

The Emergence of a Gifted Artist

Theodore F. Wolff

The Christian Science Monitor, October 26, 1982


Nothing gives me more pleasure than to announce the arrival of an exceptionally gifted younger artist—especially if he makes that appearance quietly, and without art-world hype of any sort.


Such an event happens rather seldom, but when it does, I feel as elated as an old-time prospector must have felt when he struck gold. My first reaction is to want to meet the artist. My second, to tell the world about what I've found.


That's the way I felt after viewing Alan Magee's exhibition at the Staempfli Gallery here. I walked in feeling a bit jaded, and walked out feeling exhilarated and fresh as a daisy. It's not that I hadn't seen his work before. A few of his drawings had appeared in a 1981 drawing show at the Staempfli Gallery, and I had seen paintings of his in 1980. However, I had never seen an entire exhibition of his work, and so wasn't prepared for what I found.


What I saw were several precisely rendered watercolor drawings of nudes and small inanimate objects. These were quite lovely, although a bit cold and calculated. Even so, they were as good as any other drawings of their kind. They did not, however, begin to compare with his extraordinary larger acrylic paintings of clusters of pebbles, and of the surfaces of boulders.


They are, to put it simply, almost perfect, and are among the best realist paintings being produced anywhere today. They have that aura of authenticity and integrity only found in works in which everything, from the original conception to the execution of the final detail, contributes to the whole. Every single color, shape, line, texture, or movement is related in some meaningful and "inevitable" fashion to every other dimension of the painting.


The result is a succession of works whose identities are as clear and as individual as any tree or flower, or any successful painting by the modern or traditional masters.


Viewing these paintings, I had the same feeling of being in the presence of something truly vital that I had had in the mid-194Os standing before the early Abstract-Expressionist canvases of Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still. In both cases I felt that a page of art history was in the process of being turned.


I don't mean that Magee is turning that page all by himself, nor that he represents anything as crucial or dramatic as what Pollock and Still brought into being. I mean only that he is one of the best of the group currently creating art upon premises that have nothing to do with modernism or its ideals. This art is gradually but inexorably establishing itself as an alternative "voice" to the dominant two or three modernist voices we have today.


This is pleasing, not because I am in any way antimodern, but because it's time we also accorded full legitimacy to forms of art other than those descended from the seminal modernist movements of the early years of this century.


Alan Magee is one of those whose art establishes that claim to legitimacy. He is an important realist; and one of the first of those for whom the term "new realist" has no meaning. There is a starkness and an innocence about his brand of realism that indicates a new beginning, not a modified version of—or a reaction to—something already existing. His best paintings can stand beside the best modernist art produced since World War II, in much the same way that the best of the modernists can stand beside the good art of the past.


Theodore F. Wolff was art critic for The Christian Science Monitor, and author of The Many Masks of Modern Art

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