Artist Kenny Maguire negotiates time and space with a tangible and digital paintbrush. His unique take on the world is informed by his 40 years as a painter and muralist.
Maguire’s newest exhibit, “Alternate Realities,” at Tallahassee Community College’s Fine Art Gallery gives viewers an entirely new perspective on how art can intersect with the metaverse, and what stories can be told across dimensions.
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“Moving forward where everything is so cold and hard edged, we have to hold onto nature, art, music, and organic things,” says Maguire. “I’m a big fan of the digital, but we can’t lose track of the organic, which is why I’m trying to bridge that. That’s why I’m painting half on canvas and half digitally, because I want to keep one foot in our reality while exploring the other one.”
Maguire’s larger-than-life artistic style has left its imprint on many Tallahassee locales, including Railroad Square. His mural, “Alice in Wonderland,” sprawls across the Breezeway Markets — a fantasy painted in blues, yellows, and greens that is grounded by its engagement with Black history and inclusivity.
If he had to subscribe to a singular category, Maguire says he aligns himself with the impressionism movement. He is always nudging his subject matter into more fantastical versions of reality, and had his eyes opened wide when he received his first virtual reality headset one year ago.
Messing around in the paint program that was installed on the device, Maguire completed his first three-dimensional digital piece just eight months ago. After consulting multiple online videos for guidance, he added new skills to his repertoire and steadily grew his body of digital work.
“I was amazed to see that when you light something in the computer you don’t have to mix colors or simulate light, you can just flip a button and it will give you a light to shade your models,” explains Maguire, who says the learning curve was greatly aided by his own artistic intuition. “Before, computer art looked painstakingly hard, but having my analog art experience does translate into digital art. I was amazed to find how easy it was.”
Maguire says he has been an artist since he was old enough to hold a pencil. He grew up drawing and painting in Youngstown, Ohio, and completed his first mural before he was 10 years old. His grandfather volunteered his talents to paint a logo on the side of a local restaurant. The job was his first experience with the medium, and one he never forgot.
“Growing up, we were very poor and I had pencils and pens from school but no extra art supplies,” says Maguire. “When that restaurant owner bought me paint to paint the side of his wall, I was instantly hooked. I just had more fun than I’d ever had in my young life and convinced myself that was what I was going to spend the rest of my life doing.”
With a clear direction, Maguire continued painting murals and got a job at age 15 at a local newspaper as a composing artist. He attended Kent State University and has completed a variety of large-scale community projects over the course of his career. Maguire carved a veteran’s monument out of granite in upstate New York and etched glass for a courthouse in Ohio.
Typically, his subject matter will inform what media he uses for any particular art piece, whether it’s a sculpture, mural, or painting. Oftentimes his ideas will come from looking at a stretch of canvas, or he will find inspiration in his everyday surroundings. When it comes to traversing the terrain between two-dimensional and three-dimensional art, Maguire has embraced the technical challenges of each.
“The beautiful thing about the metaverse is that it defies the laws of space and gravity,” says Maguire. “For an artist, that’s a coup because you can do anything you want. You don’t have to follows those rules of physics, and if you’re willing to go there in your mind, it opens the doors up creatively. The tools we have available now as artists, there’s nothing you can’t create now.”
Stretching the limits with a QR code
For “Alternate Realities,” Maguire has stretched the limits, quite literally pixel by pixel, for what viewers can experience in these hybrid works. Each two-dimensional canvas in the gallery has a QR code that can be scanned by a cell phone, bringing the three-dimensional modeling to life on the screen.
The centerpiece of the show is a painting of Maguire’s wife that is slowly assembled as silver puzzle pieces float through the air and fit together on the wall.
Another piece, titled “Stardust,” was inspired by an extraterrestrial encounter Maguire had while staying at a hotel in New Mexico. Right off of Route 66, he looked to the sky and saw what he believes was an unidentified aerial object.
For the augmented reality painting in the show, viewers can see what he saw — a UFO zipping through the night sky above his two-dimensional canvas of the hotel. Maguire was excited to have that particular piece rendered in all three dimensions using the virtual reality headset during the opening reception.
Beyond being a platform for these out-of-this-world artistic experiences, Maguire feels fulfilled as an artist when he’s able to elicit a visceral reaction from viewers.
“I have a genuine, pure love for art and for what it does,” says Maguire. “I think art is a powerful thing for the human race. When we make art, whether it be music, paintings, or acting, it is good for your soul.”
If you go
What: Alternate Realities: Kenny Maguire
When: 12:30-4:30 p.m., Monday-Fridays until Feb. 10
Where: Tallahassee Community College Fine Art Gallery, 444 Appleyard Drive
Cost: Free and open to the public
Contact: For more information, call 850-201-9889.
Amanda Sieradzki is the feature writer for the Council on Culture & Arts. COCA is the capital area’s umbrella agency for arts and culture (www.tallahasseearts.org).
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