ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Matthew Magee is always up for challenges.
The Phoenix-based artist didn’t know what to expect for his artist-in-residency at the Tamarind Institute in February, but it all worked out.
“I had never done lithographs before,” he says. “I came into this situation with a lot to learn. I didn’t realize what exactly I would be doing. When I got there, my job was to come up with ideas and then the institute would fabricate them. It was definitely a learning experience.”
During Magee’s monthlong residency, he produced seven prints that are being displayed in Tamarind’s latest exhibition, “New Editions.”
Meghan Ferguson, Tamarind gallery director, says “New Editions” features lithographs and monoprints created at Tamarind over the past nine months by artists Chris Ballantyne, Magee, Allison Miller and Liliana Porter.
She says Tamarind makes the print editions after each artist does his or her residency.
“It’s taken us the entire summer to get caught up with printing,” she says. “The artists that are featured are totally different types of artists. They are doing different things in the art world and it’s refreshing to see what they have come up with outside of their normal medium.”
During his time at Tamarind, Magee says he worked on his art daily and found a deep dedication to the work.
He often experiments with painting language, often creating entire works dedicated to a phrase or word, exploring its meaning through a symbolic, almost hieroglyphic format.
Magee says in one three-piece series, he played with the term “grapheme.”
“A grapheme is the smallest semantically distinguishing unit in written language, including alphabetic letters, typographic ligatures, Chinese characters, numerical digits, punctuation marks and other individual systems of any of the world’s writing systems,” he explains.
In another lithograph, titled “After Math,” Magee created a powerfully optical, red and white, double-paneled print. The final series of three lithographs, “Verbatim,” “Carthew” and “Decoder” mirror the painting style for which Magee is well-known.
“I wanted to do some pieces that relate to what I usually work on,” he says. “There’s a graphic sense to my work. The hard edges and forms, those are elements that I incorporate often.”
Magee explains that working with language is something that stems from his childhood.
“I was born in France and I grew to really like languages,” he says. “I’ve learned French, Spanish and Italian. I’m not fluent in them but learning them was always an easy way for me to communicate.”
Magee’s time in Albuquerque at Tamarind was an intense time that allowed him to see the city, while remaining focused on his task.
“The great thing about these residencies is that the artist is really allowed to focus and keep distractions to a minimum,” he says. “Though I lived in the space where Tamarind is, so I often found myself at Frontier and then I’d run the track around Johnson Field. I immersed myself into the city’s culture.”
Ferguson is proud that the exhibit came out nicely.
“You have four different moods and there’s something for everybody,” she says. “It’s interesting to imagine how the art will work together while the artists are completing them. Tamarind has been around for 55 years and our mission is to highlight the medium of lithography and we continue to look for artists who will make great lithographs.”