Artist Profile: Madeleine Peck Wagner

by Shea Slemmer
Jacksonville artist Madeleine Peck Wagner received her Fine Arts degree from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1998 and since her move to Jacksonville shortly thereafter, has built a name for herself through her skills as both a visual artist and a writer. She has exhibited her mixed media works on paper in various locations throughout the city ranging from the Jacksonville Symphony Showhouse to the Jacksonville International Airport. She has been represented by both the Jane Gray Gallery and R. Roberts Gallery and in 2008, was curator for the Making Marks: Jacksonville Creates exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville.
Since 2007 Wagner has also shared a personal side of herself via her blog: Art Isn’t Rocket Science which is described as “a blog project designed as a writing exercise and evolving into a community forum covering local ‘underground’ events as well as commentary on national art trends/news.” After following the blog for some time, I find it is hard not to get lost in the thoughtful commentary, and I believe it stands to reason that her visual art would reflect her sharp wit and eloquent way with words.
In the same style as her writing, each piece is like a personal visual diary with parallel relationships reminiscent of fairytales but, much like dreams, they have an unexplainable edge. Her canvas is paper and she transforms its uneven, naturally random surface into whimsical and sometimes surreal images that deconstruct the line between the abstract and realistic. The delicate mixed media works impart a very elemental, even tribal emotion that makes for beautifully chaotic works of art which, in my opinion, perfectly combine the speed and accuracy of paper with the sometimes tedious job of exploring one’s imagination.
The following interview touches on Wagner’s opinions about being a working artist in this city, who she has been influenced by and how her background in writing had affected her work.
EU: I would like to start with an introduction. Obviously you have strong ties to this city. Who are you and what are your thoughts on being a working artist in Jacksonville?
MPW: Jacksonville has been an unexpected boon in my life. I came here after college, on a combination of whim and dare. Initially, I was rather put off by the strip-mall-i-ness of the city (a facet of it that I still hate; I think they are scars upon the land). But over the years I’ve grown to really love it and call it home…sometimes the things that can seem most off-putting are the things you grow to love the most. For instance, when Ryan Rummel had his gallery space Downtown, back when Downtown was a real ghost town, I used to love driving through the deserted streets and imagining the potential just laying in wait.
When I first became involved in the art community here, the best thing about it (and to a large extent still) was/is the Wild West-esque atmosphere. That is to say that you could do the damn thing, whatever it was. For me, for almost a decade, that took the form of extensive (and not always elegant or accurate) art writing. However, even as I was writing, I never stopped thinking about making things.
As far as being an artist in Jacksonville, the largest drawback is the lack of an art-buying public. I think to a large extent though the general public is quick to embrace the inherent “good,” of art…but slow to show fiscal support. I think there’s a romantic misconception around artists: the idea that artists would be making work anyway. You know, you don’t need to be wealthy to buy art…Man Ray thought you could buy clothes or collect art, and really, for the cost of an afternoon at the mall, one could often purchase a piece of art. All that being said, I’ve been very lucky… people have embraced my work.
EU: Tell me about your work. I see reoccurring themes and your work seems to have a narrative quality….much like a storybook. Would you say that is accurate?
MPW: I think when an artist uses a figure (in my case, often the horse), there is a kind of inherent narrative quality that is inescapable. Certainly emotions and motives can be ascribed to the figures, beyond the stories I often imagine for them. But I also hope there is a distilled quality to the work… an almost sideways approach to abstracted landscapes. For me, one can’t paint the landscape without really painting the story of the land itself.
EU: You are also a writer. Can you tell me a little about that and how it has affected your art?
MPW: Writing is a really weird thing. Odder I think than art-making even… it’s a lot like staggering around in the dark, drunk, attempting to assemble an abstract three-dimensional puzzle. Writing is a fumbling for lyricism and cohesion… with fact and spellcheck thrown in for good measure. So, how has it affected my work? I think, well I hope, it has made me a more responsible worker, in that I try to be as tough on myself as I’d be on others. I’d say about one-third of the things I make never make it into the wider world. I will also say that for all the writing I’ve done, it doesn’t make it easier to write things like bios and statements… those are always agonizing.
EU: I am curious about your medium. Why paper?
MPW: I started painting on paper in college. I loved it, and especially responded to its tactility, and delicateness. Using paper requires a certain kind of patience and restraint, a deliberate approach that might be less necessary than with canvas. Plus with canvas there is the grid pattern that must be overcome again and again, while paper is smooth. And I like the idea that paper is easy to transport.
EU: Are there any local artists you particularly admire or relate to?
MPW: I’m very lucky to count among my friends some of the most talented and intelligent artists in the city. To single out a few, there’s Richard Warholic, Natalie McCray, Tonya Lee, Dustin Harewood, and Jennifer Morgan.
EU: Thanks so much for your time Madeleine. Any predictions about our ever-evolving art scene or advice for emerging artists in Jacksonville?
MPW: This is a great place to start, and a nice place to live…but don’t just focus on Jacksonville…think regionally, and nationally.
Feel free to check out Madeleine’s work in person at her upcoming exhibition at Underbelly, which is located at 1021 Park Street in Historic Five Points. For more information please visit Madeleine’s blog at: or e-mail her at Details about the show can be found at or