The term was actually coined by Somerset artist Rhonda Wilford during one of many sessions the two spent painting together at the Carnegie Community Arts Center when Zawko was in college. Zawko remembers Wilford jokingly crying out, “No, not black!” when such a phase would begin.
“When I was home for winters and summers, I needed that art community or someone to be under or just hang out with, someone who encouraged painting,” Zawko said. “So I would go to the Carnegie with Rhonda.”
She’s had many artistic influences through the years. It all started at home as a child, with her mother Cheryll McCrarey. Originally from Michigan, Zawko’s family moved to Somerset when she was in elementary school. Though they always had craft supplies around the house, they didn’t keep canvas. So Zawko relied on untraditional surfaces to fuel her passion to paint.
“I love to eat pickles, so I started painting pickle jars,” Zawko said. “Mom used them as candleholders. She actually kept a few of them.”
Now it is a tradition for Cheryll to buy paints and canvas for Zawko for her birthday. And as she moved through different phases in life, Zawko looked for mentors to connect with who would help her grow as an artist. As a journalism student at Western Kentucky University, it was with friend Angie Alexieff, the wife of an editor at the Bowling Green Daily News who had a studio across the street from the newspaper office.
In Somerset, her connection with Wilford, and many hours spent volunteering for the Carnegie, kept her involved in the arts community even after graduating from WKU. Add that to her time spent in high school volunteering for MMF, and Zawko was a natural choice for Master Musicians Festival board members when selecting this year’s featured artist.
“We wanted to invite an artist within our community, someone with knowledge of our festival’s diversity and uniqueness,” MMF president Tiffany Bourne said. “When Magen’s name was mentioned, I knew, having worked with her through the Carnegie and seen her work, that she would have an idea that shines.”
In fact, the initial idea for Zawko’s MMF painting came rather easily. But when Zawko, who now lives in London with her husband Stephen and labradoodle Walter, was eight hours in to bringing that idea to life, nature intervened. Wind blowing through a window where she was painting lifted a piece of plastic from a fluorescent light and drove it right through her canvas.
“I thought, you know what? Maybe it’s a sign from God,” she said. “I’m not supposed to paint that. There’s another cool idea out there I’m supposed to do.”
So she started another canvas. She painted. And she painted. And she painted some more. And eventually that painting became muddy.
Enter Zawko’s black phase.
“Third time’s the charm,” Zawko said. “I just told myself to do something simple.”
The resulting work — which will be auctioned at MMF July 8 and 9 with proceeds dedicated to continuing the festival, now in its 23rd year — is simply perfect, Bourne said.
“Third time is definitely the charm. Magen so accurately captured the magic of our festival,” she said.
The festival is magical for Zawko because of the creativity it has brought to her life, she said.
“The Master Musicians Festival is a place where artists of different mediums can collaborate and inspire each other,” Zawko said. “For the community it’s a place to enjoy the summer and experience new forms of art as well as a place to come together as one to celebrate creativity.”
The painting, which features the summer sun behind a guitar with a bluebird perched on the neck, is symbolic of growing up in Somerset for Zawko. When she sees bluebirds at home, she knows summer has arrived. The blue and orange incorporated in the sun are two of her favorite colors.
“It’s summer, and it’s always hot during MMF, but you don’t worry about it because you’re enjoying the music,” Zawko said, describing her work. “You go into this summer haze of music.”
Summer haze of music. The name of her painting, perhaps?
“Maybe,” Zawko said, with a smile.
The 2016 Master Musicians Festival featured painting will be on display at the merchandise tent during the festival July 8-9, 2016, at Somerset Community College Festival Field. The live auction begins at 8 p.m. Friday, July 8, on stage, and continues at 6:05 p.m. Saturday, July 9, on stage with the high bid from Friday. Click here to purchase tickets.
About 2016 Master Musicians Festival featured artist, Magen Zawko
Education: 2006 graduate of Southwestern High School; earned bachelor of arts in journalism from Western Kentucky University in 2010
Occupation: Public information officer for London Police Department in London, Kentucky, and owner of MM Photo and Design, offering event and portrait photography and graphic design services
Favorite type of music: “As far as musical influences when I paint: Of Monsters and Men, Fleet Foxes, Young the Giant, and Colony House. I listen to electronic, Christian, folk, and alternative music primarily.”
Favorite MMF performer: “I think my favorite artist that ever stood out to me with Master Musicians Festival is Ben Sollee. Gosh, he’s so good. And I actually thought, while I paint, I should listen to him, and I did.”
Inspirations: “If it wasn't for my mom and all of the other artists within my life, I wouldn't have been encouraged to continue my creativity. I believe artists must encourage each other throughout every step of the way.”