Thursday, July 14, 2011

Artist Steven Magstadt depicts invisible "Lesser Saints" living in Saginaw

by Janet I. Martineau
Artist Steven Magstadt with two of his works
Invisible is visible at the Andersen Enrichment Center.
Lori, who lived two winters on Saginaw’s east side streets and in its abandoned houses...Joyce, in a wheelchair and a resident of the old Bancroft Hotel, with dreams of becoming a dancer.....Larry, assigned to a foster or group home and a regular at the Red Eye,  carrying a yellow child’s umbrella whenever there is a hint of a cloud in the sky.
Artist Steven Magstadt, who lives in the Cathedral District, has captured them in elaborate montages and poems in a series he calls “A Catalogue of Lesser Saints” -- on display through Sept. 9 at Andersen, 120 Ezra Rust in Saginaw.

As Magstadt sees it, the Catholic church depicts its saints with with halos around their heads in icon-style renderings. So, in painting his “Lesser Saints” of Saginaw, he copies that imagery.
And then surrounding each of the paintings, stuck on the walls at Andersen in what looks like a helter skelter style but is not, is a poem he has written and dozens photographs he has taken which tell each “saint’s” story.

Lori, he says -- preferring not to give their last names -- got him started on the theme. 

“She reminded me of the Madonna, and I Iooked at the icongraphy of Christian saints and thought, ‘they were just people.’ Then I thought of Lori and other homeless people I saw, or ones I knew that lived in group homes, and thought how invisible they are in our society. And how harmless they are.”
Thus began his goal to make them visible through his art, photography and poetry.
Magstadt hopes to eventually publish a book with his images and his poetry. But for now the initial four paintings/montages he has completed hang on the walls at Andersen -- the paint just barely dry on them.
He has about 20 people in in mind....but the tricky part is getting their picture taken.
The "Complete Life" installation depicting Lori's life
“I want the real face of the real person as the starting point for each work. I may hand color the picture or enhance it in some other way, but I want to start with a real picture of them. 

"The problem us they are often wary and don’t like their picture to be taken,  I often have to take dozens of photos to get the one I want. 

"And just about all of them so far have been taken with my cell phone on the spur of a moment.”
To call his finished pieces multi-media is an understatement. 

Collectively, the finished four use over-painted photos, copper leaf, newsprint, paper, gauche, watercolor, acrylic, pencil, ink, letters cut from wine and liquor bottles -- and, in the case of the work  depicting Lori, such found objects as as china shards, elevator buttons, watch parts, brass, copper, salvaged tiles, glass, marble and wood.
Lori’s life, he explains, found her evicted from a safe haven on S. Jefferson two years ago and, in the process, losing her birth certificate, Social Security  card and driver’s license. Making her a non-person, without any I.D.
Already struggling with mental and health issues, she wandered the streets for two years, sometimes living in abandoned homes until she was discovered in them and tossed out; her best friend an abandoned aged put bull named Ruby.
“She looks after stray kittens and feeds them before she feeds herself. She has a new place to live now, on the west side, but she loves the  (S. Jefferson) neighborhood so much she walks three or four miles just to come back and say hello.”
The found objects forming the frame around her painting, titled “A Complete Life Takes Very Little,” were culled from some of the abandoned homes where she took cover as well as other demolition sites “where the habitat of the homeless vanishes when those homes are torn down.” And the photograph show some of those very dwellings.
Wheelchair-bound Joyce and her dreams about being a dancer
Joyce, the woman confined to  the wheelchair, “is one of the happiest souls you will ever meet,” says Magstadt. 

She worked hard to get housing at the old Bancroft before losing both of her parents “because that meant she could be semi-independent instead of being forced into a state-run foster home.”
Her work is titled “Do Not Look for a Small Soul.”
Magstadt is a Michigan native who grew up in Houston and lived in Colorado and Norway before returning to the state.
He is at work on a large mixed-media mosaic for the offices of the Saginaw Community Foundation, and 12 of his locally-inspired poems will appear this fall and winter in the quarterly journal Both Sides Now.
And in the fall he will visit Greece for a month as part of a Rotary Club Group Exchange program.
Exhibit hours at the Andersen Enrichment Center are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Admission is free.

For more pictures of "A Catalogue of Lesser Saints," check out Arts Saginaw on Facebook.

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