Jim Magner Says Farewell to Art and The City


This is my final column for the Hill Rag. In these 20+ years, I have profiled over 240 artists and covered hundreds of gallery openings and museum shows.

I love to write about art, and make art, but the sheer joy has come from talking to other artists: conversations, not interviews. These are dedicated people who follow their passions to create.

All the artists have been different, but they share some traits: they have been creators since childhood, even if they set out in other directions professionally. At some point, they all came back to art, even, if like me, they had to take long periods away to build a business or raise a family. 

My Paintings.

I didn’t become an artist. Like most of us, I was born to it; it comes with the human package. Over the years, I learned to watch, not just look. I learned that everything was living in a moment without knowing how many there would be. I want to be in that moment. I want to be inside the subject, whether it’s person, place or thing. As a result, I do not have a particular approach or technique: a “signature style.” My paintings all look different. It is the nature of the place that counts, not me the artist.

Take the Capitol: It is not a building. It is a set of ideas. It is people. Good people. Evil people. Mostly people just passing through. It is no color. It is every color. It is the color of freedom, or the color of lost freedoms. It can welcome the people of the world or it can be barricaded; locked up and fenced off. Then it becomes a dangerous place. A very dangerous place. 

PTSD and Art

Traumas begin to accumulate early. As a kid, I saw beauty and adventure everywhere and fled from boring reality. It was not appreciated by teachers and I accumulated my share of emotional damage through grade school and high school. I majored in art in college and had a few more traumas: professors demand their own form of non-conformity. Also, ROTC and studio art are not your normal dance partners.  

I got a BFA and an Army Infantry commission and a trip to Vietnam where I chalked up a few more emotional shocks…along with the scars. So, I have PTSD—verified and certified by the Veterans Administration.

Since then, like you and everyone else, I have been knocked off my feet a few times and have been rolled over by world-shaking tsunamis.  It doesn’t kill art—it makes it more intense—purer. 

So, What’s Next For Me?

PTSD and Art.

I have written three books during these 20 years: My Vietnam memoir, “A Haunting Beauty,” and two historical fiction novels: ‘”John Dillinger and Geronimo,” and “The Dead Man on the Corner.”  Fiction allows for fun stories, but my novels are really about time: how time changes us, and how we change time. That got me thinking about my time and how to make use of what ‘s left.

Much of what I have written in the column has been about the magic of art and the mysteries of us. Like me, you have PTSD. Maybe there was no combat…no battle fatigue…but you’ve had surprise disasters and maybe you’ve also been rolled over by a tsunami or two. Especially in these past couple of years.

You look for a cure. You try various ways to deal with it. But trauma, like religion, opens us up to an awareness of what’s higher than our own reality. Each brings us closer to a fuller understanding of nature…of the mysteries of it all. PTSD gives us a stairway to the supernatural and there is no more powerful link than the arts. 

PTSD and Art is an ongoing series of short conversations about how trauma can provide the insights that free us—give us the intellectual and emotional room to roam through the landscape of human creativity…and the “why?” of creativity.   

It’s on Substack, an on-line platform. It’s free and you can subscribe for notices. You can join the conversation if you choose.  PTSDart.substack.com.

Hill Rag

I could not have written this column without the support of the Hill Rag. It began in 2001 when I wrote a guest editorial, a plea to keep the Capitol open…not to hide behind barriers. I had worked on the Hill since 1977 and loved the open “people’s house” with all of its art and history. 

After that exercise in futility, I suggested to the Executive Editor, Melissa Ashabranner, that the Hill Rag could use an art column. She said, “Write one. “ I did, and then another and another…

The Managing Editor, Andrew Lightman has made it easy, and Art Director, Jason Yen, has provided terrific layouts. And it hasn’t been just my column. The Hill Rag has provided more support for all the arts than any community publication that I know of. Every cover has a painting or other work of art. It has been wonderful. Thank you Melissa, Andrew, Jason and the whole staff.

A Capitol Hill artist and writer, Jim can be reached at Artandthecity05@aol.com