During the Marion Art Center’s 2020 Winter Members Art Exhibit that ended on February 15, art lovers got a small taste of what John Magnan was capable of doing with wood. On February 21 in a nearly solo show titled ‘Thor’s Hammer’, 16 of Magnan’s social-commentary pieces boldly engaged the visitor.
Here the artist utilized primary colors, dystopian themes and, yes, Marvel Comic heroes to express his thoughts, fears, and hopes for humankind. “I always wanted to do Thor’s Hammer,” Magnan shared. That piece he believes speaks to the power inherent in judicial appointments. The metaphor of the hammer and the power of the wooden sculpture is an example of how Magnan uses familiar materials, turning them into art objects that give voice to complex societal issues.
The first-floor gallery also features a painting of Stan Lee, the creative force behind Marvel Comics for decades. The work is ink on canvas and is a seemingly simple, line-drawing portrait of Lee. That is until closer inspection reveals the truth. The face is comprised of Lee’s quotes, his words. Lee believed that writing in and of itself was the reward for the author. Here Magnan has taken Lee’s own words to create his portrait.
Lee once said, “…the most important thing is you’ve got to care about is the characters… if the characters are interesting, you’re halfway home.“ Magnan has used Marvel Comic characters and other imagery to convey his inner thoughts in spectacularly diverse ways, driving home beauty, message and the care he has given to his creations.
There, in a first-floor gallery corner, is the ‘Sword of Damocles’, a lighted blade suspended above a pair of work boots crafted from purple heartwood and maple. Its location in a corner seems appropriate, as Magnan explains why he created the piece, “…to symbolize the situation of those who have barely enough resources to get by and could be financially devastated at any moment…” or, one could surmise, painted into a corner by poverty.
Magnan’s art employs not only wood that has been chiseled, scraped, molded and otherwise converted from organic material into just about anything, but he also uses lights, dressmaker pins, glittering objects, leather, and beads.
On the second floor mounted on slender stands are five female busts, once again inspired by Marvel characters. Here we find Gamora and Nebula, trained warrior assassins, Okoye, a general and head of intelligence for Wakandan, the powerful Scarlet Witch and, last but not least, Captain Marvel herself. The busts are polished glimmering objects of maple, cherry, poplar, and walnut decorated with beads, stones, and necklaces. Breathtaking. Positioned in a group above the busts is the message, “She’s Not Alone.” While the descriptor reads in part, “…one by one the women of the Marvel Comics universe materialize and unite to have Captain Marvel’s back…” one could easily interpret this as commentary on the “#MeToo” movement.
Adding to the energy of the exhibit are three paintings done by two emerging artists, Sarah Swible and Andre Olivier. Swible is a sophomore studying business at UMass Dartmouth and Olivier is a UMass graduate now working in accounting.
Swible’s painting, titled ‘Tee Time’, places an enormous Hulk fist in the center of the canvas, under which she has placed silhouetted people holding it up trying not to be crushed, while above standing on a level golf course is a player about to swing. Swible said that the golfer represents the one-percent living well as others struggle under the fist.
Olivier has two paintings in the exhibit, one titled ‘The End’ and another entitled ‘Ice Cold’. ‘The End’ is a very clear message about the end of the world. A surfer stands alone; he is surrounded by darkness and destruction, and a black sky shows no signs of life. Olivier’s other painting, ‘Ice Cold’, is full of color but little movement with the exception of the gigantic hand poised about to snap its fingers. Once snapped everything is gone. He said that he was thinking about the immigrant populations his mother works with, their challenges and attempts to stay in the U.S., and how easily their dreams can vanish, in the snap of a finger.
Themes presented in ‘Thor’s Hammer’ are indeed thought-provoking. As for the art; it is visually stimulating, thrilling, absolutely beautiful and a rapturous one-of-a-kind journey.
‘Thor’s Hammer’ runs through March 28, www.marionartcenter.org. To learn more about Magnan visit www.johnmagnan.com.
Marion Art Center
By Marilou Newell