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Mississippi State University is currently hosting the surreal art of Joe MacGown in an exhibit called "Subconscious Meandering" at its Depot Gallery, with a reception planned for 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, June 2.
The Depot Gallery is located above MSU's welcome center at the Barnes and Noble building near Davis Wade Stadium, and the show runs from May 3 to August 31.
The show shares one of two names MacGown came up with for his art style; in addition to "Subconscious Meandering," he also calls it "Neogothic Surrealism." MacGown said he uses pens and paint, but never a pencil.
Unlike other artists, he said, he does not plan out his artwork with preliminary pencil drafts. He erases nothing, meandering without looking back.
"That's why it's called 'Subconscious Meandering,'" MacGown said. "I just start drawing or painting and let things flow."
Whether in monochrome or covered in color, MacGown's paintings pack details in tightly, with few or no empty spaces, while still keeping overarching figures like faces, plants and animals distinct. The details are like those typically seen through magnifying glasses or microscopes, and MacGown said he made a living off his art by putting it to scientific use in MSU's entomology department.
"I was hired as an illustrator originally," MacGown said. "I've been there over 23 years now, and after working there a pretty good amount of time drawing and doing other work, I got involved with research, so I'm actually a researcher now, working with ants primarily."
He said his surrealist art remained a hobby while he worked at MSU, however, and his body of work built up at home for years. A few years ago, he said, he bought frames for his work, began exhibiting it at shows, and found success locally and beyond.
At the 2011 Cotton District Arts Festival's juried art exhibition, MacGown took first place in a new category for drawing and mixed media, and he won best of show and first place in the painting division at the same competition in 2010. MacGown said he is especially honored to have won at CDAF because there's a different juror every year.
"It gives you an idea that your artwork is something," MacGown said. "The last four years have been really good."
MacGown said he also collaborates with a French artist named Bernard Dumaine, in an exercise as old as surrealism itself called "The Exquisite Corpse."
"He'll draw half of the piece of paper, he'll cover it with his drawing, then he'll entirely cover up his drawing with some heavy card stock except for about an inch to a half an inch that he'll leave that you can see," MacGown said. "I would draw the other side just looking at that strip, and when you get done, you pull that off and you see what you get. It doesn't always work out perfectly, but because you have a little strip to work from it kind of ties in a little bit."
MacGown said some of his collaborations with Dumaine are on display at the Depot, along with some of his work for an online, international artist group called the "Energy Art Movement." He said the movement started as a group on the popular art website DeviantArt, and now the group has held shows in Toronto, Chicago, Memphis, and Russia.
"We're going to have a show actually this fall in Meridian," MacGown said. "Each person who's in the group will usually try to have a show in their region. We'll have artwork from 15 different countries, and maybe some people will be able to fly in. There's a couple of pictures in this show that will be in that show."