Magidson, Madness & Muses |

Magidson, Madness & Muses

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times

Local artist Ingrid Magidson has an exhibition of her work, Madness of the Muses, opening at Forré Fine Art with a reception on Saturday.
Leigh Vogel The Aspen Times |

Each time Ingrid Magidson steps into her art studio, at her Missouri Heights home, she says a Hindu prayer. “I pray, I say thank your God for this gift of letting me put beauty into the world,” she said. “It’s my mantra from the Guru Gita to find peace and harmony.”

From outside appearances, it would seem as if peace should be close at hand for Magidson. Her career as an artist, just seven years in the making, is going well. Magidson has shown her work during Art Basel Miami, and has an exhibition scheduled for next spring in New York’s art-filled Chelsea neighborhood, at the Unix Gallery. On this weekend in Aspen, when the visual arts take center stage, she achieves something of a triple crown: Her piece “The Traveler” is being auctioned at ArtCrush, the benefit event for the Aspen Art Museum. Another piece, “The Artist Dreams,” is featured at the Unix Gallery’s booth at the ArtAspen fair, which runs through Sunday at the Aspen Ice Garden. And on Saturday, a solo exhibition, Madness of the Muses, opens with a reception at Forré Fine Art. Capping it all, a 175-page book, also titled “Madness of the Muses,” was published recently.

Apart from her art, Magidson is personable, beautiful (she’s a former model), and has two school-age children and a warm and productive relationship with her husband, art dealer Jay Magidson, who has exhibited Ingrid’s work and who edited the current book. She practices yoga and takes regular retreats to an ashram near Boulder. She is quick to talk about gratitude, inspiration and growth.

But Magidson knew when she embarked on her artistic endeavor that the creative life invited torment. As a child in Dallas, she saw her father Irving, a painter and poet, set fire to his work, frustrated by his inability to make a living off his art.

“He’d make gorgeous sculptures,” she recalled. “But there was anger and depression that he couldn’t take care of his family doing what he loved. That was hard for me to digest.”

It was enough to keep her away from making art. Though she had been creative as a young adult, making her own sculptures out of leftover bits of material from her father’s frame shop, and even selling a few pieces, she curtailed her creative process to turn to the more even-keeled world of sales. She worked for a computer firm in Texas, then in a series of high-end shops on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. When she moved to Aspen, she took a job selling contemporary art at Magidson Fine Art, where she met her eventual husband.

Around 2006, approaching the age of 40, some switch turned on. Magidson found herself craving a space of her own, a studio space, and with a yearning to create. These were not small ambitions. From the start, she was thinking of figures like Beethoven and Damien Hirst — “Artists who tried to change the course of history. These people with no fear. They go out on limbs and jump off and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks,” she said.

Part of Magidson’s spiritual view is that the world, and certainly her world, is inhabited by spirits, muses, reincarnated beings. One of those voices spoke to her when she first set up her studio. “I was hearing things: ‘You need to create something that the world has never seen before.’ Oh, thanks!” she said on a recent morning outside the Forré gallery. “That’s a big order to fill. But I went, OK, that’s a challenge. I can do this.”

The effort took her to the breaking point, and maybe beyond. Magidson found herself pulling all-nighters, complete with cigarettes and alcohol. She was accompanied not only by her own angst, but by pain from through the centuries. Magidson was trying to tune in to the voices of Beethoven and Katherine the Great, with all their genius and suffering.

“These people’s lives were sad, lived in gilded cages, and I wanted to bring them back in a beautiful way,” said Magidson, who would read about Joan of Arc and King Ferdinand VI of Spain and listen to Beethoven symphonies in her studio. “I feel what they felt. I get into their lives and personalities so they get into the work. I listen and they ask me questions. I become part of these characters.”

Compounding the anguish was the technical side. Magidson was working out a technique that was not only unique but complicated, the work done in multiple layers with materials including music scores, acrylic painting, text, fabric and her children’s toys. And always images of butterflies, representing fragility and release.

“I wanted not some immediate satisfaction for the viewers. I wanted them to look at something that would take their breath away. Art should make you stop and think and look and say, What is this artist trying to tell me?” she said. “But I was destroying my family in that dark space.”

That darkness came and went for more than two years, but Magidson saw the rewards even as she was coping with the demons. The work moved from promising to accomplished. The pieces dating as far back as 2007 had literal, emotional and temporal depth, inviting viewers to spend time with the work. The layering technique was fascinating (Magidson declines to say much about her methods), and the overall effect was a dark beauty that touched on the Renaissance, romance, fashion, and the possibilities in art itself.

Eventually, Magidson found another reward — her own emotional release. Eva Cellini, an 80-something painter who had been represented by Magidson Fine Art and who served as an inspiration for Ingrid’s art-making, also assisted on the mental side.

“She told me: ‘You have to make sure you don’t fall into this cliché.’ She said keep doing what you’re doing. But keep yourself clear,” Magidson recalled.

The advice penetrated. “The cliché of that madness, that craziness — it can only last a short time,” Magidson said. “If the artist stays in that, the work won’t be as good as it could be. The artist will destroy the gift they’ve been given from a higher calling. I had to keep my head clear to hear those voices, what they were calling.” Magidson had more practical matters to keep in mind as well. “My kids had to see mommy happy and at peace. They can see me in that trance of creating and be bewildered. But I can switch out of it now.”

Magidson says she has entered fully into a brighter space. What used to be torturous is now effortless. She hasn’t stopped moving forward with her technique; for several new pieces in the Forré exhibition, she has added a mirror component, giving the work yet another layer of depth and complexity. The work has retained a similar emotional quality, even if her colors have brightened up some. But it is a far lighter person making those pieces.

“When you realize what you’re supposed to be doing, it’s not so tough to do. It flows,” Magidson said. “But getting there, it’s fear, fear, fear. That’s the biggest thing for a lot of people. Fear is the darkness, being afraid to go to the next level. People so often are at that point of something new, and they give up.

“I understand what I have now. It’s a gift and a responsibility. I’m just getting started — that’s how I feel. The work is cleaner, more refined. And when I’m done, I know I’m done. Before, I’d question it. I’d come out of my all-nighters and say, ‘What the hell did I do?’”