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Matt Magee ’83

Caves to Canvas

By Donna Parker

When his geologist father took him on expeditions of Native American habitats as a child, Matt Magee, who received his bachelor’s degree in art history and French in 1983 from Trinity, was particularly attracted to pictographs etched into cave walls.

“It was like finding a formal vocabulary that American Indians used to communicate,” says this New York City-based artist.

“This has been the greatest influence on my art.  My dad and I would go on these drives throughout the Southwest and as soon as we returned home, we would line up all of the rocks and arrowheads we collected.  This has carried over into my paintings – anything in nature ended up being examined.”

Consequently, when Matt headed to Trinity in 1979, he planned to major in geology, but he found himself constantly “making art”.  He declared a major in art history in his sophomore year, spending his summers interning at the Guggenheim.  During his senior year, Matt did an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim collection in Italy and is now working on an exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg’s work to open at the collection in May 2009.

Matt currently works for the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation after years of working with the artist himself and spends his days registering and handling art works, preparing them for collectors and art museums.

“I find myself wearing white gloves handling $15 million paintings.  And my job as the photo archivist at the foundation means I am constantly handling photography requests from various organizations.  I’m at a very good point in my life right now and have come to a place where I feel successful with the balance of my day job and my own work as an artist.

“I think back to my Trinity days and thank professors such as Bob Tiemann, department of art, who taught painting.  Much of Tiemann’s own work was bought up by the late Italian collector, Count Giuseppe di Panza, who has one of the world’s foremost collections of minimalism.  Elizabeth Ridenhower, also in the art department, was always very supportive of my ideas and work as an artist.”

“Overall, the rigors of the classroom and high expectations of the professors on campus made me realize the Trinity environment was first-class.  It made me feel special and was truly a special place to be.”

Matt spends any spare time away from his art wandering through museums and attending art shows.  It’s all about the art, even at night and on weekends when he retreats to his studio to work on his paintings.

“I’ve worked for years and years and just now feel it is paying off.  I’m more focused than I’ve ever been and always keep my eye on the main objective, which is my studio work.”

Matt often reflects on those expeditions with his dad, who recently passed away.

“Dad loved my work and understood it.  He was the first to teach me how to examine artifacts of nature and incorporate that into my passion for art.”

Matt recently showed his paintings in Santa Fe at Eight Modern in an exhibition titled “Thoughtforms”.    His work has been reviewed in Art in America and the New York Times.

You may e-mail Matt at mmagee@rrstudio.org.