Stephen Magsig: Capturing Urban Landscapes in Oils

Published May 13th 2009

The American painter Edward Hopper once said “Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist.” In my opinion, this statement describes Stephen Magsig’s collection of art perfectly—and I’d even say there’s a little hint of Hopper’s style in Stephen’s technique.

A self-taught artist, Stephen Magsig grew up and now resides in Michigan. He’s been painting city scenes from Detroit for over 25 years, and as he states on his website, he “continues to find inspiration in the place [he] calls home.”

In the summer of 2007, intrigued by other daily bloggers, he started his own website called Postcards from Detroit to showcase his urban landscapes. He has been blogging his daily paintings ever since.

Stephen has a bold, yet simple approach to landscape painting. He is meticulous about using composition, light placement and brushstroke texture to reinforce his subject’s prominence.


In the painting above, he centers an angular, industrial building, captures the sunlight to reinforce its redness, then surrounds it with brush-stroke induced drifts of snow.

Stephen is able to portray the somber mood of this industrial area through his muted colors and vacant landscape.

This next piece captures a wonderful view looking up towards a classical building. Again, a careful use of brush strokes strengthens the vertical line, reinforcing the structure’s height and pulling the viewer’s gaze into the textured, airy sky.


Even though Stephen uses dark colors throughout, enough contrasting light is carefully placed in the painting to give the impression of a bright, sunny day downtown.

And if you think you’ve got his style pegged, think again. Some of my favorite paintings from his collection are his City Lights paintings, which depict Detroit’s streets at night.


They seem so simple, with dark buildings, dark sky and dark roadways, all punctuated with bright circles of light—yet it’s obvious that each one shows a specific location at a specific time, and the concept behind them is brilliant.

If you have a moment today, I’d encourage you to check out Stephen Magsig’s blog, Postcards from Detroit. It’s well worth a visit.

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