Merrill Mahaffey’s paintings capture the enduring terrain of Western America: its intense sunlight, cascading geological formations, and its sense of timeless grandeur. With an attentive focus on dazzling, yet remote spaces, Mahaffey’s art avoids the trappings of dramatic sunsets, astounding vistas and dramatic skyscapes featured in typical romantic Western landscapes. Instead, he chooses as his subject the extraordinary within the ordinary: the simple, time-chiseled details of the land itself. Mahaffey’s cascading rock faces, slowly carved by ancient rivers, reference the immensity and authority of time, far beyond the scale of human history and imagination. His art displays a mastery of color and light, referencing the prevailing and eternal forces of nature, time, and the intense glare of light in the American West.
Citing the abstract expressionists and color field painters as major influences, Mahaffey creates paintings that serve as modes of inquiry into the true nature of landscape. While Mahaffey’s work appears to be based on an inexorable realist perspective, their manner hints at abstraction. His art reflects an analytical eye with a clear interest in the nuances of geology and science; with it he searches for the abstract underlying structures and patterns that exist within the DNA of the land. “In his work is none of the easy iconography that typifies life in his part of the country. The facts of the condition in which he lives have proven sufficiently compelling to those who have bothered to look,” Harry Rand, curator at the National Museum of American Art in Washington DC writes. “Rather than the hokum of sharply raking dawns and sunsets, Mahaffey takes his cue from Manet.”
Merrill Mahaffey was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1937, and received his arts education from the University of Arizona and the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of Arts). In a career that spans more than fifty years, his extraordinary painting is included in noted museum collections across the country, including among others the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Denver Art Museum.