Wandering with Intent
The Quantum Art of Michael Madzo by Marshall Falwell, Jr.
f there is one core truth set down in what I believe to be the most important book about art of modern times, André Malraux’s The Voices of Silence, it
PHOTO: ANTHONY SCARLATI
is that present art is always a response to past art; that art past, present, and future conduct an endless dialogue. What Picasso learned from the Altamira cave artists will one day inform artists who haven’t been born yet, artists who, in turn, will help their own contemporaries understand Picasso and Altamira. With this concept and its implications understood, the artist/magician, not unlike the quantum physicist, stands time on its ear, makes the arrow of time fly backward or forward, or freeze-frames images for as long as the artist’s own work survives: Till the world ends and the eyes are out and the mouths broken. Look, it is there! Archibald MacLeish, “Not Marble Nor the Gilded Monuments”
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Enter Michael Madzo, fiftyish, lean as a denim whippet, a little weathered from twenty-below and hundred-plus winds prevailing in the Dakota Badlands where he lives and rides horses and three-wheelers and tends his father’s cattle ranch—that is, when he’s not trotting the globe, tending his paintings, hundreds of them by now corralled in what is becoming a lengthening rosary of galleries, exhibits, and important collections (the Saatchis’, for instance) around the world. You see, Michael makes his living from his art, quite an accomplishment in a world where most artists have day jobs and deep resentments for having to do them. And so Michael Madzo, the Marlboro Man who’s never smoked a cigarette, “wanders with intent,” as he puts it. “Wandering with intent” to do what? Well, to wage his art—passively, though, as a non-combatant in the war zone that is the art world. Michael is quite aware that his paintings revisit the triumphs of Western art before it declined into the “isms” of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, finally to implode in ab ex, post-modern, conceptual, pop, op, minimalist, and so on—blank canvases, vast earthworks, famous bridges wrapped in polyethylene, screaming popes, and nauseating Venice Biennales. So compelling has been the antagonism of artists against art and critics against language itself, it is remarkable that over the past twenty-five years, Michael Madzo, although trained in art and design and well aware of the brouhaha, has somehow remained free of taint from the prevailing carnage. Emerging as a legitimate native son of the American west, as Jackson Pollock claimed to have done but really didn’t, Madzo sounds pure echoes of Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Modigliani, a less manic Dalí, Renaissance swags of fruit and flowers, Italian tresses blowing in a Botticelli wind. They are all there. No apologies, no excuses, no hesitation. But there is much more there than repetition of images. The past is changed through Madzo’s attention to it, and through your response to his visions, in the same way that quantum physics tells us that objects change just from having been observed.
I Always Believed, Mixed media on paper, acrylic, cotton thread, 21” x 46”
Madzo’s work is what Malraux has characterized as “a tissue of fantastic dreams”: whimsical, subtle, lovely but never merely pretty or derivative in any pejorative sense of that word, contemplative not academic, fun not silly, humorous not satirical; exuberant fantasias on classical themes—Stravinsky on Carlo Gesualdo, John Cage on Schoenberg, Picasso on Lascaux. You will stand before Madzo’s paintings time and again and see something different every time. You will discover details, devices, and touches here and there, none of them extraneous, all relevant in some indefinable way once you notice them.
Often, the main figures look back at you without the slightest pretense or hidden agenda, and you will know that somehow they know you are looking at them. You will want to speak to them. You will want to applaud.
But I must warn you. Madzo’s paintings are seductive. You will be charmed, and you will want to step into his paintings because they’re as real as your own “fantastic dreams.” His paintings will do what has long been thought to be completely inappropriate to viewing art or discussing it—they will make you feel better. The Passage, Mixed media on paper, acrylic, cotton thread, 36” x 26” 68 | November 2O11
By the way, Madzo is an excellent poet as well. In fact, the titles of his paintings are lines lifted from his poems: “a place supposed,” “the promise lingered, beautiful in itself,” “soul will return to the sleeping body,” “I always believed.” NashvilleArts.com | ArtNowNashville.com
To see Madzo’s paintings in the Nashville area, you will have to “wander” just a bit yourself—a short drive down Old Hillsboro Road to Leiper’s Fork and the Leiper’s Creek Gallery (Lisa Fox, owner), his sole local gallery presence. Michael Madzo’s technical virtuosity deserves mention as well. Here is his own description of his technique: “The paintings are made with various pieces of paper materials, all beginning with a single form or color. The painted image evolves steadily, piece by piece, taking on its form and direction by the addition of each individual piece of paper or paint. I work on many paintings simultaneously . . . and often find portions of a painting migrating to another work in progress. As the pieces of paper are laid down, acrylic paint is used to over-paint and cement the pieces in place. Varnish is laid on top of the paint and then the colored threads are sewn throughout the work with a sewing machine. All paintings are original. I have been working in this manner for twenty-four years, showing primarily in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Santa Fe, and Mexico.” Michael Madzo is represented at Leiper’s Creek Gallery located at 4144 Old Hillsboro Road in Franklin TN. www.leiperscreekgallery.com
The Latin Teacher, A Wise Indifference, Mixed media on paper, acrylic, cotton thread, 19” x 9.5”
Soul Will Return to the Sleeping Body, Mixed media on paper, acrylic, cotton thread, 16” x 9”
The Promise Lingered, Beautiful in Itself, Mixed media on paper, acrylic, cotton thread, 28” x 20” NashvilleArts.com | ArtNowNashville.com
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Nashville Arts Magazine features the work of Michael Madzo in this November 2011 artist profile written by Marshall Falwell, Jr.