A common thread in John Day artist Hans Magden’s extensive repertoire of expressive paintings of human forms is the use of bright hues.
“If I have a distinguishing stamp, it would be color and the uniqueness of each piece,” he said.
He adds color until he’s happy. However, it doesn’t fit a traditional use of color, he said.
“My people ... it’s like they wandered into a scene, and no one told them the dress code,” he said, adding, “What if a clown walks out into a field? That’s striking. It allows you to have a coloring concept that really isn’t acceptable.”
That bold spectrum faded for Magden in 2009, when he was struck by Parkinson’s disease.
The chronic, progressive neurological disease is known for causing tremors, slowness of movement and impaired balance, and it also affected Magden’s eyesight.
“I lost all vision of color,” he said.
Although he continued oil painting during that time, the canvases were mostly absent of color.
His color vision began returning in January of 2010, but that’s when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
It was the beginning of the battle of his life.
Magden lost much of the use of the right side of his body and started painting with his left hand. Now he’s ambidextrous.
He and his partner, Christy Rheu Waldner, immersed themselves in researching the best diet and exercise for Parkinson’s, and doctors also helped him find the right combination of medicines.
Drinking kombucha and eating fermented vegetables, such as kimchi, for a “healthier gut bacteria,” he said, “helped me as much as anything, as far as a more permanent improvement.”
He’s found three beneficial exercises for Parkinson’s are dancing, bike riding and boxing.
“It appears that boxing is maybe the best — rhythm, timing and balance,” he said. “The big bag develops strength and balance.”
Surrounded by paintings in his private gallery, Beyond the Perimeter, are a speed bag and heavy punching bag, which he uses on a regular basis.
They seem to reflect the expressions in his art, which has also been therapeutic in regaining strength.
“It’s been a real effort,” he said. “Parkinson’s is a formidable foe. The goal is just to stay in the match. You’re probably not going to win, but it’s the refusal to be defeated. It will take all your energy and concentration to fight it — anything less than that, you’re destined for a wheelchair.”
Magden spent his early childhood in Los Gatos, California, near San Jose, where he experienced his first sculpture lesson at age 8.
His dad bought a ranch north of Enterprise around that time.
“I went up each summer and worked on the ranch,” he said, adding they moved to the property when he was 16.
He graduated from Wallowa High School, then Oregon State University in Corvallis. He trained to be a veterinarian at Washington State University in Pullman, graduating in 1976.
Magden opened the John Day practice in 1980 with his now-former wife, and he would periodically take time to paint in an adjacent studio.
“When I could no longer practice, then the paintings exploded, and the sculptures exploded, and who knows what will be next,” he said.
He shows his art mostly locally. One might see his paintings in a John Day restaurant or in a couple galleries in Baker City.
In March of 2017, his work debuted at the International Art Expo in New York City.
Waldner, whom he calls his best art critic, was primarily responsible for the show in New York, he said, adding he’s not particularly interested in sales.
In the artist’s in-home studio are photos and other pictures on the wall that inspire him or strike him as important. More than 350 paintings, plus 30 sculptures, rotate through his three-room gallery.
However, he doesn’t paint or sculpt from pictures and hasn’t done so since the ’80s. He said he may recall a facial expression, a gesture or the way someone is standing as he paints.
Magden, who especially enjoys Van Gogh’s art, said he avoided classical art training, preferring to follow a more creative process.
“Realism copies what you’re looking at,” he said. “I have much more fun following what my brain tells me to do.”
Magden said most of the time, when he sits down with a blank canvas, he doesn’t know until it’s finished what he will create, and his works are never finished until he paints or sculpts the eyes.
“The essence of the feeling is the eyes,” he said.
Magden’s latest project, which he hopes to eventually scale up, is a sculpture of four hybrid bighorn sheep and Alpine ibex goats with some human qualities.
He was inspired by a photo he saw of ibex standing at a steep angle on a dam, making a seemingly impossible climb upwards. In his interpretation, one especially human-like animal is pursuing the other three.
“You’re only limited by your own imagination,” he said as his light blue eyes gazed at his creation. “I don’t know if all of this will run out, but I don’t think so.”
Magden’s gallery is by appointment only. For more information, call Waldner at 541-620-1819 or visit HansMagden.com.