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Eugene Henry Mackaben (1920–1984) is a regional artist based in Tucson, Arizona known for his simple and grassroots-style paintings.
A World War II veteran from Chicago, Mackaben received a diploma in drawing from the School of Art Institute of Chicago in 1948. Soon afterwards, he went to Mexico where he studied at the Insituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende 1948-49 and, from 1949–1950, at the Insituto Nacional de Belas Artes, Mexico City, where he studied under David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Ruiz. In 1953, he graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago with a B.A. in education.
Beginning of his career
Mackaben moved to Tucson in 1953, showing his work at the Tucson Art Center gallery and with the 261 Gallery Group at the Temple of Music. Throughout the 1950s Mackaben continued to show regionally and locally with the Tucson Fine Arts Association.
Following a 1954 show of western regional artists in San Francisco, the San Francisco Chronicle’s art critic Alfred Frankenstein wrote: "The most individual of these artist is Mackanben who manages to use the devices of abstract art without a touch of solemnity. He paints the Arizona towns and people, fantastic rocks and desert landscape with a great deal of formal ingenuity and with a rather subtle palette, but always with gusto, whimsicality and humor."
Onward to professionalism
In 1958 Mackaben received an award for his work “Shapes of the Desert” presented by the Tucson Fine Arts Association. He served as the arts and crafts supervisor in the Tucson school system while earning his masters in art from the University of Arizona. He was awarded an M.A. in 1959. His thesis “exploration in the Use of Lucite as a Medium for Oil Painting” was one of the first documentations in the United States on the use of plastic in painting.
In 1959 he began teaching art at the University of Arizona, Pima Community College and conducted several workshops.
In 1960 his work “Punks” was featured in the Tucson Daily Citizen in conjunction with an exhibition at the Tempe of Music and Art Galleries. In October of that year he showed as part of a University of Arizona Art Gallery faculty exhibition that included work by James Powell Scott, Warren Anderson, Douglas Dennison Maurice Grossman, Charles Littler and Andrew Rush.
By 1963, he was given a one-man show of drawings and woodcuts at the Workshop center of the Arts in Tucson and in October Mackaben was elected as president of the Tucson Artists Guild and able to turn to painting full-time and to experiment with different media including the mixing of Lucite with oils.
Analyzing his works
In 1968, on the occasion of his shows with the Chuck Winter Art Gallery, the Tucson Citizen wrote: "Mackaben’s work is represented in private collections in the United States, Mexico, Canada and the Far East. He has exhibited extensively for more than two decades and has won many awards in California. The 16 paintings […] are highlighted by his sympathetic portrayal of Mexicans. The plastic medium used by Mackaben seems to heighten his ingenuity in documenting out Arizona towns and the landscape which surrounds them."
Tucson Daily Citizen art critic Alberta Friedlander wrote in conjunction with a 1972 solo exhibition that Mackaben’s paintings are: "Social Realism, which reveals the customs and foibles of people in an exaggerated expressionist manner. At times his message is so broad as to border on cartooning. All are painted in very personal style and he uses acrylics in strong colors giving his canvases an overall textured surface with a tactile quality."
Always actively involved in the community and its diverse needs, including mental health care and free clinics for the impoverished, Mackaben lived much as he painted—close to the people with all their joys and failings. He painted and printed the darker and more comic aspects of local life, moments of anguished protest and the earnest efforts of the locals to cultivate some semblance of pomp and circumstance in, as he put it, “our world’s comedy of errors.”
- American Artists of Renown, 1981
- Annuaire International des Beaux-arts Vol 1.
- An exhibition of Painting by Tucson artists, Rotunda Gallery (Paris France)
- Bermingham, Peter. Tucson Early Moderns 1945-1965, University of Arizona Museum of Art 1998.
- Mackaben, Eugene Henry, Exploration in the Use of Lucite, a Plastic, as a Medium for Oil Painting, University of Arizona 1959.
- Tucson Daily Citizen (respective dates of the journal are below)
- 14 April 1953
- 23 March 1954
- 18 May 1957
- 3 May 1958
- 1 September 1959
- 26 March 1960
- 5 November 1960
- 9 February 1963
- 30 October 1963
- 20 January 1968 (Mackaben at Winter’s)
- 24 April 1971
- 3 June 1972