It’s just one more of the Salt Lake art scene’s little surprises: One of the world’s most influential designers, according to How Magazine, has been in our midst for years. You might not know the name, but McRay Magleby’s “Wave of Peace” poster—with doves emerging from an ocean breaker—is one of the best selling images of all time. Even if you were familiar with his designs, you probably weren’t aware of the University of Utah professor’s newfound artistic triple-threat, with sketches and paintings completing the triumvirate. All these works have a lightness and clarity that makes them immediately accessible artistic expressions.
He didn’t start making pen and ink sketches until four years ago. “Traveling by plane, I met a former student who had become a flight attendant,” he recalls. “She told me she had wanted to go sketch in the canyons. I had as well, so we hiked up City Creek. I got so excited about sketching that I made hundreds of them the last several years.” The amount of the detail on these fine line nature scenes is incredible; he says it reached the point where he didn’t need to use a pencil for outlines, but could eventually figure out which lines to put where without having to erase anything.
When he retired as design coordinator at BYU in 1996, he was heavily involved with the Salt Lake Olympic Games, consulting and doing design work. At the time, he thought he would have time to pursue another medium—painting—but it didn’t pan out. It wasn’t until Sundance asked him six months ago to put together this show that he thought, “If I’m going to do paintings, now is the time.”
His work had always been influenced by the Hudson River School of the early 20th century, with its idealization of nature. He took a 35mm camera and, from photos, composed paintings of scenes from Jackson Hole and the back side of Timpanogos. He has finished six acrylics, and they’ve never been seen before this show.
Of course, his posters are what he is best known for. When sports filmmaker Bud Greenspan was going to come speak about the Olympics and show his movies, it was a natural for Sundance’s Ray Grant—with whom Magleby had worked with in the “Cultural Olympics” events for the 2002 games—to invite the artist to exhibit in conjunction. Magleby had produced six posters for the games, one official design and five which couldn’t use the copyright five rings logo since they were unsanctioned. He slyly got around that by placing two zeros above the three in “2000,” but not linking them. Other posters in this show include an AIDS awareness poster for the Shoshin Society, who had commissioned the “Wave of Peace” for the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima; images from Greek myths, originally done for BYU registration materials; and Earth Day commemoratives.
He adds that he’s decided not to do any more freelance work unless it’s something really fun; he’d like to focus on painting. Some galleries have shown interest. He’s been lucky to get work in the past that other artists might hawk their easels for, and he’s set to create the design for postage stamps of four astronomical constellations next year, based on his Greek myths. His rÃ©sumÃ© of designs for the USPS includes Bicycling, Arches monument, and the Wright Brothers. He got the nod for the latter when they discovered he had actually built and flown his own ultra-light plane.
“The way I think about design is simplified, almost Japanese,” he explains. “Most people are surprised by the sketches. My style came from falling in love with screen printing while realizing its limitations. You can’t use a lot of details, and the registration has to be simple. But big blocks of color work really well. I’ve tried to work with the limitations of each medium.
“The same compositional principles apply to any work of art: negative and positive space, breaking up the grid, and creating good eye flow. I studied Maynard Dixon, who was a great designer; he composed big paintings brilliantly. He leads you off in all different directions, but it always feels right.”
THE ART OF MCRAY MAGLEBY: SKETCHES, PAINTINGS & POSTERS Sundance Screening Room. Through Dec. 31. 223-4567