Matt Magee at James Kelly Contemporary

In his first solo exhibition at James Kelly Contemporary in Santa Fe, Phoenix-based artist and recent NYC transplant Matt Magee (NAP #14) offers a bit of a departure from his typically looser, more shapely and often-codified works. In this stripped-down, analytical offering, Recent Paintings and Sculptures features works inspired by observed and imagined forms, collections, data analysis and the Arizona sky. – Claude Smith, Albuquerque/Santa Fe Contributor

Matt Magee | Narita, 2013, oil on panel; image courtesy of James Kelly Contemporary

Having worked as archivist for Robert Rauschenberg for over 18 years, one can only imagine the countless hours Magee spent poring over inventory numbers and transferring information from one source to another. It’s not surprising to see several of his paintings begin to resemble the gridded ledgers he might have used to record valuable numeric information, serial numbers and artwork titles that comprised Rauschenberg’s inventory. In Stillwater and Xantrion for example, paint becomes the information that fills the ledger boxes revealing large charts full of varying shades of black, grey and blue. Each box of color is seemingly chosen completely independent of its surroundings and Magee’s laborious process speaks to the physical act of transcription. In many instances, the resulting compositions suggest something very analytical–a bar code or data analysis.

Matt Magee | Installation view, Recent Paintings and Sculptures; image courtesy of James Kelly Contemporary

Matt Magee | Xantrion, 2013, oil on panel 36 x 48 inches; image courtesy of James Kelly Contemporary

Upon closer inspection however, Magee is quick to reveal that his lines and surfaces are not mechanically rendered. It is evident that there is a certain pleasure taken in revealing those slightly wonky dividing lines, the fields of color that ever-so-slightly overlap, and those layers upon layers of brushstrokes that interweave over one another. These works reveal Magee’s truly methodical approach and desire to showcase the handmade, but also speaks the act of painting at its most distilled form.

Matt Magee | Stillwater, 2013, oil on panel 36 x 26 inches; image courtesy of James Kelly Contemporary

Standout works such as Narita offer a more serendipitous approach to Magee’s image gathering process. An attractive form in and of itself, it serves as ground plan for Tokyo’s international airport that Magee gleaned from from the back of an in-flight magazine. Thorn Chart bears resemblance to a used sheet of address labels; the empty spaces where the would-be labels once resided create a lovely rhythmic contrast of positive and negative space. In the deceptively simple yet optically engaging Bandwidth, Magee is able to distill portions of the vast Arizona sky and landscape into subtly shifting horizontal bands of blue, grey and white.

Matt Magee | Thorn Chart, 2011-2013, oil on panel 20 x 16 inches; image courtesy of James Kelly Contemporary

Matt Magee | Bandwidth, 2014, oil on panel 46 x 36 inches; image courtesy of James Kelly Contemporary

It’s in these works that the viewer is truly rewarded by Magee’s highly observant nature and ability to extract little moments of unexpected inspiration from numerous disparate sources.


Matt Magee was born in Paris, France in 1961 and subsequently lived in Tripoli, Libya; London; Dallas; San Antonio; Brooklyn; Manhattan; and now lives in Phoenix, AZ.  He received his M.F.A. from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY and B.F from Trinity University, San Antonio, TX. He has received several awards including Tamarind Institute Residency, 2013; Josef and Anni Albers Foundation Residency, 2007; New York Foundation for the Arts Painting Grant, 2002; Pollock-Krasner Foundation Painting Grant, 1991; among many others. Magee has exhibited with solo shows in various galleries around the United States including Hiram Butler Gallery, Houston; Knoedler Project Space, New York; Devin Borden Hiram Butler, Houston; Eight Modern, Santa Fe; River Gallery, Narrowsburg, New York; Bill Maynes, New York; Gerald Peters Gallery, Dallas.

Claude Smith is an arts administrator and educator.


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