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Merrill Mahaffey: Interior Landscapes of the West, a Fifty-Year Retrospective

June 22 - November 9, 2008


"Next summer I'll be sixty and after due consideration and worry,

it is time to live a life of essential meanings; so cut to the artistic chase.

Do not tilt with windmills and do not rest."  -- Merrill Mahaffey, 1997 


Vast landscapes, sublime beauty, and remote, uninhabited spaces at the heart of the West are all hallmarks of Merrill Mahaffey's paintings. A self-proclaimed spiritual naturalist, Mahaffey's work inspires a sense of awe and reverence for his subject matter, whether it is close-up rock formations, panoramic views of mountainsides and canyons, or reflections of canyon walls in the water. (right: Merrill Mahaffey, Hite Totems #2 © 2008 Merrill Mahaffey)

Merrill Mahaffey: Interior Landscapes of the West, a Fifty-Year Retrospective, a new exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, opens June 22 and runs through November 9, 2008. The exhibit is a unique inquiry into the meaning of western landscapes and their role in American culture at the beginning of the twenty-first century. 

Mahaffey's view of the natural world as an expression of the creative power of the universe is paired with his analytical temperament and love of science and geological formations. He revels in realism, but stops short of photographic detail, infusing color and softening lines to express his feelings. His work seems to say, "Look here. This is what is essential. This viewpoint, right here, has meaning."

Mahaffey is particularly interested in the interface of land and water. Many of his works focus on the dramatic contrast between the glassy, reflective surfaces of rivers and lakes and the textured rock walls that tower above them.

MNA Curator of Fine Art Alan Petersen says, "Merrill Mahaffey's paintings examine the visual power of landscapes, the nature of their constituent parts, and the effects of human interaction. Characterized by a dynamic combination of realism and abstraction, his works celebrate the monumental scale of geological formations of the Southwest and express a lifelong concern for wilderness in our modern society."

Mahaffey's body of work exists within a great tradition of American landscape painters. However, unlike much American landscape painting, Mahaffey's is neither sentimental, nor romanticized. His images are direct and assertive. He tends to avoid dramatic lighting and many of his works have glaring,midday light that enhances their objective quality that in the artist's words, "de-romanticizes" the subject. Mahaffey says there are scenes that he won't paint, because he considers them too picturesque and admits that one of his goals is to "make the commonplace seem special."

Born in Albuquerque,New Mexico, Mahaffey grew up in Grand Junction,Colorado. By the age of eight he had already begun his lifelong passion for art. He attended California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland (now California College of Arts) and Sacramento State University (now California State University, Sacramento). He received his Master of Fine Arts from Arizona State University and taught at Phoenix College and ASU. He took his first river trip through the Grand Canyon in 1980 and has since made many more Colorado River journeys that have greatly influenced his work.

Collections of his work can be found at the Smithsonian, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Phoenix and Tucson Art Museums, and numerous private and corporate collections. He resides in Phoenix, Arizona. 


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