Can an art exhibition transport us to other places?
“Magical Realism” at the Museum of Fine Art in Owensboro, Kentucky, answers that question. It shares 40 large-scale paintings by artist Michael Aakhus, retired dean emeritus of the University of Southern Indiana College of Liberal Arts. The Mesoamerican scholar is presenting these works together for the first time.
Their locations — Mexico, India, and Ireland — evoke cultural experiences etched in his memory. “I’ve tried to capture the qualities and cultures of these places I experienced,” he says.
Although painted over 30 years, the works achieve consistency of vision, composition, and color. Its effect is powerful. “Picasso’s pursuit of four-dimensionality in painting merged different moments of time, points of view, and cultures,” Aakhus says. “My works have a lot to do with that.”
The very title of the show reflects his other influence. “Literary magical realism originated in Latin America and has a quality of magic, where things may seem rational, but they are not,” he says. “I transcend real-world imagery by how I juxtapose them and apply color.”
His paintings combine several images from photographs drawn on the canvas, interplaying the dream-like memory of magical realism. The painting “Cathedral Rose” demonstrates this style. It ties a field in Oaxaca, Mexico, to the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City, adding Mother’s Day roses given to his late wife, Patty. Its saturated colors — intense with a glossy finish — evoke inner reflection.
“My colors are expressionistic, representing my feelings and ideas about what I’m seeing, not the colors our eyes see,” Aakhus says. “I achieve it by starting on a dark surface and then building up the oil paint layer by layer, adding those brighter tones.”
“This is a sensational show, from color to composition, and we’re excited to present it,” says Mary Bryan Hood, director of the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art. “We have admired Michael’s work for years. Its magical qualities engage the viewer.”
Hood says the museum’s 2016 exhibition of Aakhus’ work “was so well received that we wanted to repeat the experience.”
Logistically, Aakhus collected the paintings from his New Mexico and Pennsylvania homes and drove them to Owensboro. It was worth the trip. Aakhus has shared his inner response to their world by taking us inside other cultures.