Picture of the Week: Wright Hotel by Stephen Magsig

May 22, 2023

Stephen Magsig, Wright Hotel, 1998, oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 23 1/2 in.

Stephen Magsig is a Detroit-based painter and printmaker known for his abstract industrial, urban, and western landscapes. Magsig is a self-taught artist and has been painting for over 30 years. His work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout the country. He currently shows his paintings with the George Billis Gallery in New York and Los Angeles, along with the David Klein Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan. Magsig’s paintings are part of many corporate, museum, and private collections, including American Capital in New York, NY; The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI; General Motors Corporation, Detroit, MI; Harvard Business School, Schwartz Art Collection, Boston, MA; New York Historical Society, New York, NY, and Wayne State University, Detroit MI, among countless others. Magsig currently lives and works with his wife and fellow artist, Janet Hamrick, along with their cats Artie and Bella, in Ferndale, Michigan. 

Magsig paints a wide array of landscapes. While he takes a more abstract approach in his current work, he has composed many paintings that capture the city of Detroit; He has painted 1,700 works of the city since 2007. Similar to the Impressionists of the mid to late nineteenth century, Magsig captures scenes of daily life in his early Detroit paintings. He does so while reflecting “a distinctly American landscape where industry, urban and nature collide.” Magsig showcases parts of the city that typically would not be deemed beautiful by conventional standards; He depicts “scenes of vanishing industry, urban ruins, sunlit houses, storefronts and the urban prairie.”

His 1998 work Wright Hotel is one example of his many Detroit landscapes from his early career. With this painting, Magsig sought to capture what was happening in Detroit in the 1990s. At the time, the city was suffering from economic decline. For instance, in 1998, Hudson’s Department Store was demolished, which had been a source of economic success in downtown Detroit and was once the world’s tallest department store. Magsig captures a portion of a city experiencing economic turmoil with his Wright Hotel. He notes that he liked the mystery of the car in the foreground. He only shows us the front half of the car, leaving us to wonder who the driver is, where they are headed, or if they decided to stay put at the Wright Hotel. Magsig also shares that he liked playing with the contrast between light and dark, along with the weathered bricks of the building. For example, he creates a stark contrast between light and dark on the street. There is also a contrast between light and shadow across the different panels of the Wright Hotel. Magsig places light on the right panel of the building with the name of the hotel, whereas the left portion is left in shadow. Perhaps this contrast could function as a metaphor for the trajectory of Detroit; would the future continue to be filled with struggles, or light at the end of the tunnel?

Written by Angela Athnasios

Sources: Stephen Magsig




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