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Portrait painter Art MaGee shares his skills with High Point art lovers.


Art MaGee's name fits him well.

He's made a life of painting portraits and drawing illustrations - and now he thinks it's time to share with would-be painters the secrets of the craft.``Too many (portrait) artists have hidden the camera and dodged the fact that they all work from photography,' MaGee said. ``Photography holds life still for us.'

The challenge, the art, is to move beyond the photograph to soften facial flaws and highlight a subject's character.

That's part of the message MaGee shared during a recent portrait-painting demonstration at a High Point Theatre art gallery.

One observer - furniture consultant and retired executive Jack Rochelle - said the audience gathered close enough to smell the oil and pigment from MaGee's easel.

``They were rapt, as in raptured,' Rochelle said. ``This local group could not believe how fortunate we were to have someone of such museum quality. We have here a selfless genius in our community.'

Polly Greene, vice president of the High Point Fine Art Guild that sponsored MaGee's demonstration, said the 35 people who attended learned from his step-by-step instruction.

``We were sort of awe-struck to have a painter of that caliber,' she said.

MaGee, 67, who moved to High Point from Chicago last April, spent most of his career as an commercial illustrator for newspapers and magazines. He established one of Chicago's busiest studios on Madison Avenue and operated it for about 18 years after training in London, Paris and New York.

But after he was asked to illustrate a Green Giant television commercial in the late 1950s, MaGee sensed that television would soon end the demand for illustrators.

MaGee kept his studio going until after his three children were grown. He spent his spare time painting portraits and teaching. When he retired in 1983, he increased his teaching at Northern Illinois University in Chicago, where he helped design the visual communication degree program.

After teaching for four years, MaGee and his wife, Angie, decided they wanted to leave the city - where they both grew up - and move to the country.

``While the city has certain rewards, they're kind of shallow,' MaGee said. ``We had an apartment downtown as well as a home in the country, and I would go out and see these poor young business people rushing around downtown Chicago - everything was as if their very lives depended on it. We got tired of it.'

The MaGees had friends in High Point - George and Cornelia Pearce - and decided that North Carolina offered the climate and culture they wanted. The location also was close enough to Washington so that MaGee could continue his contract portrait work there.

MaGee likes to meet his subjects, some of whom are military leaders. He watches the way they move their heads and hands, and tries to capture movements that are typical of that person.

``People's intelligence, integrity and sense of humor show on their faces,' MaGee said.

Since moving to High Point in April, MaGee has found what he describes as a continual visual reward. He and his wife are living in a Lake Pointe condominium on Eastchester Drive now, but they're looking for a spot to build another country home.

MaGee has found two students so far, and wants to teach more. His goal is to establish a drawing school to revive the classic tradition of master teachers and apprentices that he thinks is dying.

Although MaGee is retired, he's not ready to slow down.

``I draw better today than last year or the year before,' MaGee said. ``Norman Rockwell lasted to his mid-80s. If I'm lucky, I'll have another 10 to 15 years of growth.'


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