In 1958, the St. Lawrence Seaway was inaugurated finally making Buffalo’s Erie Canal Obsolete. Buffalo, “the Concrete Atlantis,” once the point of passage for millions of manufactured and raw goods, began a steady decline. Buffalo’s sudden geographical isolation exacerbated a problem of national proportions: the decay and transformation of the American industrial city. Gone were the halcyon days of urban planning, of large, Bauhaus style projects. Construction in most of urban America slowed to a trickle as industry took flight. Buffalo, the Jerusalem of Jeremiah’s lamentations, was left a shell of its former self: empty Frank Lloyd Wright structures standing stark, empty, their destiny suddenly unfilled.
Time did this to Buffalo. An unforgiving sort of time that only leaves the residue of process in its wafe. Finding, collecting time’s traces is the work of historians, academics, perhaps even of certain artists. Bill Maggio, a native of Buffalo, has made it his business to materialize his city’s process of decay, invoking through his most recent collage and mixed-media work a larger metaphor of change both human and elemental.
Maggio constructs his complex pictures with transparent simplicity, invoking, among others, Johns and Rauschenberg. The residues, scraps of billboards, shards of rusted metals, or lengths of rubber tubing, are found on street corners, at bus stops, and beneath overpasses. With these, he refashions the increasingly lost messages of the city in all their human potentiality: perhaps we have forgotten them, will continue to pass them by, but they remain, haunting phrases or scraps of phrases, wind-blown and mildewed, reminders only of ourselves. One such piece equivocates between “URGE” and “URGENT” communicating a pale emergency in a truncated language. Another tells us something is perhaps both “BEST” and “NEW,” as the image tears away from the blatant falseness of the advertising copy. Still another mixes a woman’s leg set into a classic Rita Hayworth pose, a broken doll’s arm, and words whose juxtaposition seem to spell “DRIOS” (dress, or perhaps dross?) and “FRIEND,” just the sort of message that casts the potentially obvious into the region of enigma. And then there is the drawing, a sort of unrolling strip which Bill Maggio scrolls over the work, both connection and severing the elements of the collage. Here is time again, a Mobius strip whose final destination we are not allowed to see, the sort of time that is onrushing, merciless, irrevocable, like an Old Testament God in its final and inscrutable intention. But still, the concern here is not the quantity of time passed, but rather the living, breathing quality of its passage. This affects us too, our cities, our families, our world.
Bill Maggio’s work speaks immediately to contemporary concerns, both in its subject matter and pictorial accomplishments. In his work’s examination of the quality of our lives we find a deep humanism, thankfully alien to much postmodern myth-making, to demands of “media-profiles.” The industrial landscape which we seem to be able to deal with only in our science-fiction, constitutes this artist’s nature. The mirror he holds up to it provides a difficult, beautiful, if disappointing portrait of ourselves.