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Obsessive ... expressive: Sometimes it all works out in a wonderfully weird way

 

Joseph MacGown, 21, adds to the mural that surrounds him in his bedroom at home in Sessums in Oktibbeha County Wednesday. MacGown has about 60 pieces in an exhibition entitled

Joseph MacGown, 21, adds to the mural that surrounds him in his bedroom at home in Sessums in Oktibbeha County Wednesday. MacGown has about 60 pieces in an exhibition entitled "Obsessive Expressive" at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St. through January. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

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This panel of four expressive studies is among pieces by Joseph MacGown at the Rosenzweig Arts Center this month.

This panel of four expressive studies is among pieces by Joseph MacGown at the Rosenzweig Arts Center this month.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Joseph MacGown, 21, gets an assist from his father, artist Joe MacGown, in hanging a collaborative piece Tuesday at the Rosenzweig Arts Center.

Joseph MacGown, 21, gets an assist from his father, artist Joe MacGown, in hanging a collaborative piece Tuesday at the Rosenzweig Arts Center.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Joseph MacGown adds vibrant color to a segment of a bedroom mural wall Wednesday.

Joseph MacGown adds vibrant color to a segment of a bedroom mural wall Wednesday.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

 

Not so long ago, Joseph MacGown's studio was the great wide open, the hills, gravel and grass blurring past under the feet of a cross-country athlete. Competitive running -- not art -- was his thing, and the Starkville High grad earned a handsome scholarship to college for it. Somewhat ironically, the scholarship was to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. Somewhere along the way, from within the runner, the visual artist fully emerged. But he's never been far from the surface. 

 

"It's all kind of worked out in a really bizarre way," Joseph says with a mellow grin.  

 

The 21-year-old has always had an creative streak, but even his father didn't necessarily suspect the prolific artist lurking inside -- one whose work has been in about 40 art walks, festivals and pop-up shows, one whose first month-long solo gallery show, "Obsessive Expressive," opened Thursday at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center.  

 

"Joseph's a really good writer, and he's recorded over 300 of his own songs, plays instruments, composes -- that's more of what he was doing when he was 15. ... Some time later in high school though, all of a sudden it really took off," says Joe MacGown.  

 

 

 

Fertile ground 

 

Some kids may have been intimidated growing up with a dad who was always shipping his own artwork off to places like Paris, Russia or Amsterdam, but Joseph was raised in an environment of rampant creativity. The senior MacGown is well-known as an entomological artist, but as much or more so for his signature drawings and paintings blending fantasy and surrealism. Joe saw early on that his son was expressive.  

 

"When he was 2, I gave him a drum set," he recalls. "When he was 4, he would walk around the trails playing a bouzouki and singing songs about the animals he saw. He was making things in mud, painting on the walls ... I've been watching this since he was a baby. It's natural for him to do anything artistic, and we encourage it." 

 

Joseph credits that nurturing environment. "Plus, I was kind of a moody teenager, and I got into (painting) as a form of cathartic therapy," he says.  

 

"Right as I was getting into art, I was getting an offer for the cross-country program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. ... My time there was pretty great because everyone there was interested and passionate about something creative."  

 

Joseph was drawn to what others sometimes call "outsider" artists, or naive artists. 

 

"Those are people who may not be exposed to a formal art education; sometimes they aren't even capable of normal societal function, but they do art all the time. It's part of their lives. I guess I found that inspiring," he explains.  

 

Those same artists are often inspired by kids, and Joseph is, too.  

 

"I look to kids' art as a really high inspiration. They're more creative than a lot of adults. They haven't been pressured by society to make art -- they just do it because they want to create." 

 

Not surprisingly, Joseph's overall style is nonconformist. 

 

Mark Wood of Chalet Arts, a framing and art supply shop in Starkville, has watched the artistic progression. 

 

"His art is far from trying to mimic something he sees. It comes from his heart and his imagination," Wood says. 

 

 

 

Immersion 

 

After transferring to Mississippi State, where he is pursuing a degree, Joseph got into the studio he shares with his dad on the woodsy, secluded property they live on in Sessums. In one corner, Joseph has space to record his original music, much of it keyboard and guitar distortions. He's often listening to it as he lets colorful paints fly. 

 

"People would always ask me what my favorite color was, and I'd say I like them all," he says. Nowhere is that more evident than in his bedroom. In the past year, its walls, floor and even ceiling have become a canvas. 

 

"It's kind of like a sketchbook in a way," says Joseph. "I can just roll out of the bed and add to it." 

 

Kids coloring all over the walls typically gets a horrified parental response. But Joe's reaction? "I think it's awesome." 

 

Joseph's solo show, on display through January, is an "Obsessive Expressive" amalgam of his work on wood and canvas, as well as some sculptural ceramics. A few pieces are collaborative efforts with other artists. Much of the show was created in the past couple of years. Some of it is influenced by Joseph's time in Berlin, Germany, this past summer. He accompanied a friend who had a photography internship there. In the city vibrant with inspiring street art, German expressionism, murals and electronic music, they produced a two-person show.  

 

Wood says, "Although one of his largest influences has been his father, Joseph has really stepped up to the plate. He's taken his own tenacity to accomplish what he has done." 

 

After seeing some of the young artist's creative process on social media, Wood says, "His art is never this easel that he's got in front of him -- it's this loud, wonderful music going on, and he's dancing to apply his paint, and as he does, these things start coming to life." 

 

As for Joseph, he hopes his show, his work, encourages people who see it to be opened minded, to want to make art for themselves. 

 

"I hope they kind of get how much fun I was having with it."

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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