Legends of Fine Art | Merrill Mahaffey


By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Earlier this year, Merrill Mahaffey was honored with a 50-year retrospective of his work at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. Viewers could peruse his impressive body of work that captures the visual splendor and power of the American West, from the multi-layered rocks of the Grand Canyon to the soaring heights of Longs Peak in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. Mahaffey has often referred to himself as a “spiritual naturalist.” As he states in the catalog accompanying his recent retrospective, “Nature is the answer to everything. I think everything I’ve made in the name of art is about sunlight and gravity.”

Born: Albuquerque, NM, 1937.
Resides: Phoenix, AZ.
Proudest accomplishment: The exposure I got in the first Western States Biennial Exhibition in 1979. Each of the western states selected outstanding artists, and the National Endowment for the Arts sponsored the show, which traveled to a series of museums. It was a big deal. The other thing I am most proud of is my latest large public painting at the Chandler Center for the Arts in Chandler, AZ.
What would you have done differently in your life? I wouldn’t have married so young. I was 19.


Advice to young artists: Don’t marry young. And go to an art school as opposed to a college or university program. The difference is you are learning art theory at college, but when you go to art school, you are learning how to draw.
Motto you have lived by over the years: Paint every day.
Biggest misconception about artists’ lives: That they are rock stars.
How has your work changed since starting out? I’ve gone from abstraction to realism.
How has the art market changed? Art right now is entirely market driven and very inhibiting on a young artist’s imagination. I was able to paint wild stuff; now if you do that, you can count on living with it yourself.
Other interests: I have always had a strong interest in sports. When I was younger, I played tennis. Now it’s golf. I like things that put me in nature—rock climbing, skiing, backpacking, and fishing. I backpack to a mountain lake, go fishing, and take pictures that will become paintings.
Recent news: Last spring I did a painting for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. And I just had a retrospective of my work at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff.

He is represented by Duley-Jones Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ, and Santa Fe, NM; Imago Galleries, Palm Desert, CA; Piñon Fine Art, Littleton, CO.

Featured in “Legends of Fine Art” in December 2008