This article was published in the Montgomery-based MADE paper in May 2014 to coincide with the Southern Makers annual gathering of craftsman, artists, musicians and chefs in downtown Montgomery's Historic Union Station Train Shed. I conduct a lot of interviews for various client projects, and while this one was technically an editorial feature, I apply the same practices to client work as I did here.
Florence native Audwin McGee works large. His architectural designs are grand, incorporating natural elements like stone and rough hewn wood; original furniture designs boast carved details that demand attention; a recent series of sculptures made from recycled aluminum, commissioned by the four cities that make up The Shoals (Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, Tuscumbia), represent the area’s rich music history and reach nearly 20 feet; and many of his paintings cover an entire wall. A few of those paintings – and a few smaller works – are featured at Southern Makers.
Of course there’s more to McGee’s work than impressive size. Painting is the artist’s preferred medium, and if you ask him a few questions you’ll quickly realize he is foremost a storyteller, like all good Southerners, and that each painting illustrates a personal tale. A recent painting titled “The Consumed and the Consumer” portrays a tarpon swallowing a man (the artist himself) who is in turn attempting to swallow a school of smaller fish. When McGee talks about the painting, one hears echoes of Santiago’s struggle with the marlin in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Both men are consumed with the fish, with reeling it in, as the fish consumes the man, taking every drop of his physical and mental energy in the fight. In Santiago’s case, the battle is a lost cause, a metaphor for the inevitable. But McGee’s work, even when the images slip into the sobering margins of life, exhibits a whimsical quality that reminds the viewer, and the sportsman, that it is a sport after all. The message may be simple, but it is poignant and effective.