Self Reflection and Artistic Evolution: Gunnar Magnus

Written by Vittoria Benzine

NYC-based fine artist Gunnar Magnus, a confidante and supporter of the local street art scene, will be showing his work this Sunday, November 24th, at Art Apple NYC.

Art by @gunnaremanuel // Photos by @t.k.m85

The Bushwick gallery is hosting its first annual ‘Friendsgiving’ group show. The Eventbrite page explains it is “an event where the local community and artists celebrate together what being a New Yorker is about,” featuring art by Magnus, Sorinn Lillico, Najee, Rodrigo Meireles & Gaia, Demetrios Zissiadis, Marie Jose Cima, and Dice the God. The evening’s festivities also include musical performances by Luie Rivera, Micah Behrend, Aviator Keys, M-Flair, Demetrios Zissiadis, Mylo Wayz, and Nikobrim.


‘Friendsgiving’ runs from 5:00pm – 9:00pm, with performances starting at 7:00pm. Tickets are $15 advance/$20 at the door. Food and snacks will be provided. The event supports Art Apple’s mission as a “platform focused on local New York City and International artists and their dissemination world-wide” to discover “up and coming artists in the areas of arts, fashion, and music as well exploratory markets in travel and gastronomy.”

Art by @gunnaremanuel // Photos by @t.k.m85


‘Friendsgiving’ marks Magnus’s first public show since his solo exhibition, “We See in Color,” which took place this October. Since then, Magnus has moved to Bushwick and continued diving into his artistic psyche. Seated under the low, warm light of MUDspot’s secluded back room, I asked the artist if he felt his work has changed in the last month and a half.


Magnus sipped his peppermint tea before musing, “I think that solo show was the inception of what I’ve been doing and what is, to me, my most emotionally and artistically honest work. I’ve worked really hard over the last couple of years to go along with what brokers were telling me was the best route as far as work that they could sell.” He emphatically recalled, “I eventually got so sick with myself of doing that.”

“I’ve worked really hard over the last couple of years to go along with what brokers were telling me was the best route as far as work that they could sell.” He emphatically recalled, “I eventually got so sick with myself of doing that.”

After this realization, Magnus course-corrected and committed to exploring his own values, motivations, and capabilities as an artist.

Art by @gunnaremanuel // Photos by @t.k.m85

I wondered what values proved predominant for him throughout this process. “It sounds so fucking cliché, which I hate,” he began, “but it’s my struggles and the noise that I hear in my head all the time. What I’m actually painting are characters and mythos that are purely from my own life, compiled into these incredibly heavily weighted characters and visual pieces that I put a lot of my own story into.” He said his recent work is “definitely a conversation with myself and how I’m feeling. The work has always been a good compass for where I’m at.”


The self-examining aspect of Magnus’s work comes with a noble purpose. “I think it’s part of the quest of humanity to understand yourself, and I think it’s important to have a grasp on who you are as a person,” the artist explained.

“I think it’s part of the quest of humanity to understand yourself, and I think it’s important to have a grasp on who you are as a person,” the artist explained.

However, from Magnus’s perspective, the purpose of such work lies in understanding, rather than being understood. “I don’t want viewers of my work to try and understand me, that’s not what the goal of it is,” he told me.

Art by @gunnaremanuel // Photos by @t.k.m85

“I want to confuse people; I want to intrigue people. I want people to take something away from the work that resonates with themselves, and build a story that’s as grandiose and fleshed out with the piece as I have in making the piece. Even if it’s not even remotely close to what it is that I’m trying to say, I want them to at least have that level of connection, and that kind of resonance with the work. I want people to do more than just look and be like ‘oh, it’s a topless lady!’ or ‘oh, it’s Bugs Bunny with a fucking glock!’”

Art by @gunnaremanuel // Photos by @t.k.m85

There’s certain types of art the artist doesn’t like.


I just wanted to escape commercial art,” he continued. “When I first started, I told myself that I wouldn’t be a commercial artist, and a year in, I found myself being exactly that. On top of that, I really hated the fact that any time I showed anyone my work, there would be another artist who would immediately pop into their head that they could compare it to. That definitely happens a lot less, it hasn’t happened since I debuted the new work. It brings me a lot of peace knowing that it’s not a riff, that this is something that is me.”


I wondered how an artist with such a strong sense of self felt about the experience of participating in group shows. Though Magnus noted that his first public exhibition was a group show in Orangeburg, NY, he did admit, “I don’t like doing group shows… I like having creative control.” Magnus prefers platforms that allow him to exert total influence over the space itself, the work on the walls, and the viewing experience he believes his work deserves.

Art by @gunnaremanuel // Photos by @t.k.m85

He is, however, looking forward to ‘Friendsgiving.’ “I’m excited because it is a new body of work post-moving to Bushwick,” Magnus said. “I love living in Brooklyn, and it’s definitely affected the work, so I’m excited to show that.” He’s contributing three 7’ x 6’ canvases for the occasion.


Magnus is also looking forward to seeing the work of Rodrigo Meireles, who creates ceramic bowls that resemble dead coral. “He has this wonderful four-year-old daughter who paints on them with him, so it’s this really great father-daughter dynamic,” Magnus beamed. “The other painters, I haven’t looked at their work at all yet. I just got the list yesterday when they finally put the flyer out. So I’m looking forward to looking through that, seeing what’s up. I’m not gonna draw an opinion on that before I see it,” he concluded.

Art by @gunnaremanuel // Photos by @t.k.m85

Magnus encourages anyone with an appreciation for art to check out ‘Friendsgiving.’ “It’s definitely going to be a diverse body of work,” he said. “It’s more than just white walls with paintings on them.”


He cracked a wry smile before continuing, “as much as I love the art scene and love going to galleries and either destroying [the work] or praising it, I think that any art lover needs a break from that standard format. It’s a good way to come out and have fun and appreciate work if you want to, or have a drink and enjoy the music. It’s a nice intersection, it’s a bit more casual.”

Art by @gunnaremanuel // Photos by @t.k.m85

Magnus is in the business of switching it up, of thwarting the status quo, oftentimes through exploration of or reliance upon the self. It’s embodied by his artistic career and the creative control he yearns to exert over its reception. In some ways, his mindsets seemed antithetical to the commonly accepted approaches to an arts career, which focus heavily on community. I wondered if he believed the standard game plan requires edits.


“I don’t think anything needs to change,” he replied. “I think everyone is purely capable of standing up for themselves. Anytime anyone says that you HAVE to play the game, I just don’t believe in that. I don’t believe that you HAVE to do it the way that’s been set as precedent… I think that if anything it helps to know that you can be strict to your creative vision and still make it happen rather than adhering to some sort of arbitrary rule set that you need to go through this, this, and this to get to there. If you can find a way, just fucking do it. Why not?” His decision to work with Art Apple, an innovative new venue planning creative events like ‘Friendsgiving’ makes sense from this perspective. Check out their event on Sunday to witness this new period in Magnus’s work, alongside the lineup of artists and musicians that Art Apple has compiled for an evening that promises to be full of good times and inspiration.

Art by @gunnaremanuel // Photos by @t.k.m85

Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via:

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To Learn more about the artist, check out his instagram