JOE A. MACGOWN
"CREATING ART IS A NECESSARY ESCAPE FROM REALITY, A STRESS RELIEVING ADVENTURE INTO MY SUBCONSCIOUS THAT HELPS ME DEAL WITH THE CHAOS OF LIFE."
Joe A. MacGown was born on June 21, 1964 in the State of Maine in the United States. Many of his young days in Maine were spent collecting insects, exploring the woods and drawing that which he saw (and that which others have never seen). At age 11 him and his family moved to Mississippi. Joe’s interest in art and science continued to develop and after graduating high school he attended the Memphis College of Art; however, he realized that was not for him. After working the night shift at a local grocery and doing freelance artwork, he began working part-time at the Mississippi State Entomological Museum in March of 1988. What started off as basic museum tasks later on became a permanent full-time position.
MacGown's work has been featured in numerous local, regional, and international exhibitions, and he has been awarded for his successful style. MacGown’s perception of life on this world is depicted through his art in such a unique manner that one can only admire the togetherness of absolute stillness. A gathering of majestic creatures that extend an imaginary hand that pulls you into a tale that you really are already living, yet you don’t know it. Art that gives you free entry into another dimension full of magic, chaos, solitude, yet at the same time companionship. A certain feeling of knowingness, while at the same time being a complete stranger to your surroundings. Through his art, one can perceive what he describes as “Subconscious Meandering” -allowing his ideas to “flow out of his head.” One word alone cannot describe the magnitude of emotions and curiosity that his art stirs. And that is fine. For all we need is that entry point, that subtle welcoming into such a world.
Q. Please tell us what was your childhood like?
A. I was born in Maine, where I lived until I was 11 years old with
my family before we moved to Mississippi. My family did not have much money, so I tried to find creative ways to entertain myself. My childhood, despite not having money, was not bad, because we lived in a beautiful area and I am sure that beauty formed a huge basis for my creativity.
Q. Tell us about some of the highlights of your artistic career, such us memorable shows/exhibitions?
A. I have had many highlights as an artist over the years, but some of my favorite activities have included having exhibitions at universities where I gave talks about my art to students. I am very active in my local arts scene, and have organized hundreds of art walks, pop up shows, exhibitions, and small festivals. I enjoy sharing my art as much as possible and also giving other artists the same opportunity. So, picking a highlight is difficult. Probably the best part has been that my 22-year-old son Joseph is also driven to create art and music. For the last few years, we have done many art activities together including murals, collaborative paintings, exhibitions, and more.
Q. Do you remember the first piece of art you made? What was it and how old were you and what shaped your artistic journey since then?
A. I remember drawing and painting as early as four years old. I enjoyed trying to recreate realistic scenes, animals, and people early on, but I also loved trying to create fantastic visions and distorting reality. One of the earliest pieces I remember doing was of a figure attempting to cross through a colorful, elevated gateway, as if into another imaginary realm. As I got a bit older, I realized the struggles that my family was going through, which were exacerbated by my talented and likely genius father who had some type of mental illness, perhaps he was bipolar? It made life for me, my three younger brothers, and mother less than ideal at times. For me in particular, it meant working full time early on to help pay bills. I slept very little for many years, and learned to efficiently use any time I had to create art. My art was often chaotic, emotional at some level, an escape from my reality at the time.
Q. Why did you decide to become an artist?
A. I did not decide to become an artist, rather, I do art because I am driven to.
Q. Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. I grew up in an artistic vacuum as a child, and really knew very little about other artists. As a result, I developed my own style and ways of representing my unique visions. So, my early influences were not from other artists, but from nature and observing people.
Later, I learned about artists such as Durer and Rembrandt, who I greatly admired. More recently, with social media and the internet, I have found thousands of amazing artists across the globe who are unique and consistent in producing wonderful art. I don’t want to emulate other artists though, but when I see interesting work it motivates me to do more. When I see what people like Ernest Fuchs have done, it makes me strive to push myself further.
Q. What does "success" mean to you?
A. Success. That is a difficult question. I am not driven by money, and yet, money is important. Ultimately, success for me would be a life where I could do art and enjoy nature full time without having to worry about everyday finances. My goal is to establish a gallery and studio on my property that is big enough to invite other artists to come stay and work. Success would also be that as a result of sharing my art, that I create a dialogue with viewers whereby they think more about certain subjects, such as the relationship between humans and this planet.
Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. Sometimes being an artist is very difficult. The drive to create and the time it takes to create can be an impediment to having healthy relationships. For me, diving deeper into my art is one way I counteract the challenges of dealing with others. But, to be honest, I am never truly lonely. I have no problem being by myself, and I think I have a healthy balance with time spent with others.
Q. What does your work aim to say?
A. The way I create art is to allow thoughts to flow freely from my subconscious. I often begin a piece with random applications of colors or shapes. From there, the ideas that coalesce are based on everything that I have observed in life. In general, my themes tend to be about the interconnectivity of all things, the effects of humans on ecological systems, the randomness that sometimes makes sense and at other times makes no sense, the bizarre religious and other beliefs that humans have, the circle of life and the passage of time, the attempt to understand the magnificence of all living things and yet know that we are but infinitesimal specks in the grand scheme of the universe.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. I think that if someone enjoys making art, then they should. Art appears to be unique to humans. I don’t like to judge what art is, although I don’t equate good technique alone with being a good artist. I think we are born with our own unique potential for creativity, and that given time, opportunity, and practice, we can learn to show others what is inside of us. Art can be many things. It can be done for many reasons, to express joy, sadness, hatred, and all other emotions. It can be done to make a political point, to protest injustice, to honor the beauty of nature. Or art can be fun and whimsical. Art can be so many things.
Q. Apart from making art, what do you love doing?
A. I am also an entomologist, and I enjoy learning new things about insects, and nature in general. I love to garden. I like to exercise.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. Best advise as far as art goes was, “show your art in as many places as possible.”
Q. What advice would you give to the next art-generation?
A. Make art, make more art. Be unique. Be as good as you can be at whatever you do. Share your art as much as possible.