OCT. 1997. By Gerrit Henry


SOHO Blue, Oil on Linen, 1996


Stephen Magsig at Chuck Levitan - New York, New York - Review of Exhibitions


Detroit-based Stephen Magsig comes to Manhattan's downtown ­­ have something to do with his "day job" as a commercial illustrator. Take, of instance, Caffe Roma. As is typical of Little Italy's light-deprived streets, it's impossible to make out the time of day; a sign advertising Italian ices is almost completely in shadow. The entrance, with its short flight to steps and glass doors leading to the restaurant, is lit from above, as if evening were approaching, or already there. The sense is strong that Magsig is -telling a story with his creamy brushstroke and low-keyed color, a story without people, without narrative but with multiple painterly incidents marking its plot, and with light and dark in dialogue.


Unless Magsig's doorways advertise themselves (as do Caffe Roma and Fanelli), we often have a sense of not knowing where we are, of being in a kind of generic Little Italy or­ SoHo. He often cuts through this anonymity by naming a street in his title, and sometimes the cross-street as well. Crosby Garage is, for all the outsized ugliness of its square, gaping maw and battered windows, esthetically delightful in its sincerity and in its capacity to transmute city blight into visual gold, right down to the flecks of yellow paint underneath the windows indicating, in a most plastic way, where the paint on the building is peeling.


Magsig remains an unflinching realist while detecting a beauty in Manhattan streets that may escape those of us who live here. His most recent work features zoom-lens close-ups of cornices and disjunctive window-glass reflections, always approached at the oddest angles. Magsig has a right to experiment; still, I prefer the less baroque, more romantic whole facades, the better to remind us, without distortion, of what New York still has to offer.


COPYRIGHT 1997 Brant Publications, Inc.