STONE TO SOUL

by Donna Gold
©Maine Times
October, 1994

Alan Magee first dazzled the art community about 15 years ago with his surprisingly luminous renditions of Maine's smoothly lined beach stones. But he has long since left off painting the rocky coast of Maine for a look at more elusive and contradictory foundations, those of the human soul. This work is more subtle, complicated, even contradictory than Magee's earlier work. But it is no less dazzling.

Liberating himself from the super-real, Magee now explores an inner reality, asking a series of unusual and hard questions about the impact of memory and the human capacity for good, for evil and for forgiveness.

These questions are formed in the eyes of the spirits that populate Magee's works— small dolls, collaged Renaissance beings and disembodied heads with eyes that take in the world. Though some eyes may be closed, it is only for inner contemplation. Each face still confronts the world, aware of troubles the viewer can imagine through a twist in the mouth or a distortion of the body. Some beings are active, fiercely engaged in the world; in others there is a serenity and sober acceptance that nevertheless does not swerve from sadness.

Magee is currently working in a multitude of media: monotypes, collages, small sculptures that themselves are collaged from found objects, and animation. Each seems to reinforce the other.

About one-third of the show is a series out of his Pages From A Working History of Art, computer-collaged tributes to his artistic mentors. Computer art frequently suffers from too many tricks, but here the tools do not intrude. There is a strong sense of texture and of depth in these collages, so much so that one imagines the awkward cuts and layers of glue that would be apparent in a physically collaged piece.

These tributes stretch the show, pushing it outward, into Great Britain and Eastern Europe, and back as far as the Renaissance. Magee's college friends, for instance, filmmakers Timothy and Stephen Quay, are presented as faces attributed to the late 15th century painter, Giovani Cariani. Their outsized but gentle faces peer through neat holes cut on either side of an old weathered door, itself collaged from a photograph Magee took in Italy. One "brother" stares at a small jester doll performing in the foreground of the collage, the other at the viewer.

There is a striking sense of purpose here, and a minimal use of elements, seldom more than three. There is serenity here, too, emerging from the artist's fine attention to detail. In much the way the old silverprint photos of Eugene Atget lure the viewer with their shimmering precision, these lure with their texture—of rusted barrels of chemical drums, billowing clouds or peeling walls.

Magee might bristle at this kind of analysis. He finds that when art discussions focus on technique, the work cannot change your life. And perhaps he has a point. As wonderful as these tributes are, we apprehend them with our minds, pondering the artists' contributions and ideas. Magee's spirit figures evade analysis. They haunt our hearts.

By Donna Gold
Stockton Springs, Maine