Good morning folks and Happy May; welcome back to the Mirror Gallery here on Hipsters of the Coast! Last month marked the release of Magic’s latest expansion Streets of New Capenna, a gritty new plane full of demon crime families and all the wealth, luxury, power, and deceit that comes along with modern urban gangster movies from which it takes inspiration. It’s wildly diverse in both art style and intended storytelling, and with nearly 500 new pieces of art to pour through, there is no shortage of standouts.

If it’s your first time here, my Grand Art Tour series began back in 2019 and was inspired by New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz’s 2010 article entitled A Grand Tour. That story took readers through the museums of New York City that Saltz visited that summer, and highlighted some of his favorite paintings from around the city, illuminating foremost their storytelling capabilities. In similar fashion we too will be looking at my favorite paintings from this brand new world, and the stories they tell; what they are, who painted them, and why they’re important.

Through these entries you’ll notice there are more new folks making their mark in the game than ever before, and some of Magic’s legendary artists back once again to show off their ever growing skillset. You’ll also hear me describe what I’ve come to call legible abstraction; I thought for a long time about how to categorize much of the alternate art we see in Streets of New Capenna, and have landed here. With riffs from Art Deco to Expressionism to a bit of the Nouveau, these are artistic styles like we’ve never seen before in Magic, yet we know what is happening, and can see a story unfold. It’s different and uncanny, yet still recognizable and regaling.

So let’s take to the streets, this is the Streets of New Capenna Grand Art Tour.

Brokers Ascendancy by Shawn Pagels

Brokers Ascendency by Shawn Pagels. Digital.

This is Shawn Pagels first published card for Magic: The Gathering, and what an absolutely fantastic introduction he’s made. Previewed during the First Look of Street of New Capenna, it set the stage for what we could expect from the alternate art in the set, and I knew instantly it would be one of my favorite pieces. Pagels mixes the Avant Garde styles of the early 20th century: Cubism, Expressionism, and Fauvism into a digital style all his own, reminiscent of an earlier time and yet firmly rooted in this current time and place of 2022’s New Capenna. This is the artwork that made me excited for this set, and I can’t wait to see what he might do next.

Disciplined Duelist by Serena Malyon

Disciplined Duelist by Serena Malyon, watercolor & acrylagoauche, 13” x 18”

I first wrote about the art of Serena Malyon back in May of 2020, as a part of my Magic Artist Wishlist. I knew when I first saw her work that it needed to make its way to Magic, and she’s come roaring onto the scene with three new artworks, Disciplined Duelist chief among them. I don’t often talk in absolutes, but this is perhaps the best example of Art Deco adaptation into fantasy in the entire set. Sharp geometry and use of perspective, dynamic color and lighting, and an imbued sense of motion work together to make this one outstanding piece. The story is clear, the artwork is brilliant, and it fits her perfectly. Welcome to Magic Serena, I’m absolutely thrilled you’re here.

Obscura Interceptor by Erin Vest

Obscura Interceptor by Erin Vest. Digital.

Another artist off that same Magic Artist Wishlist, Erin Vest also made her debut with two cards in Streets of New Capenna, and I was particularly smitten with Obscura Interceptor. Her style is all her own, and we see a figure painted in Vest’s contemporized Expressionism, as her palette mimics an oil slick of the city street. Undulating shapes and swirls all but freeze the viewer as we’re caught mesmerized by the wizards activity, which turns out, is right where they want us. It’s the perfect introduction to Magic, and I’m so very happy to see her join the roster. Welcome Erin!

Plains by Olga Tereshhenko & Mountain by Sophie-Ann De Steur

Left: Plains by Olga Tereshchenko. Digital. Right: Mountain by Sophie-Ann De Steur. Digital.

The full art Metropolis Lands give us a glimpse into both the day and night of New Capenna, and these two perhaps best show the dichotomy of this diverse plane. Both artists are new to Magic: Olga Tereshenko’s Plains comes alongside four other cards, and feels like it’s right off a poster that would hang in the train station, informing passers-by of the Capenna Express’ latest venture. These sort of visual callbacks to actual Art Deco posters of the early 20th Century are integral to informing our experience, adding reality to our fantasy, and making it real.

The Mountain by Sophie-Ann De Steur is one of the most visually striking of the entire bunch, an architecture of color and shape and style, as spotlights accentuate its form all the way to the very top. It’s a completely different way to see a Mountain within an urban plane, again mixing fantasy and reality, and making New Capenna, even as fantastical as it might be, feel as if it could actually exist.

Turf War by Victor Adame Minguez

Turf War by Victor Adame Minguez, oil over acrylic on gessoboard, 12” x 16”

This work is a whole mood, and captures the Riveteers essence in a single painting. Victor has created a hazy, almost suffocating environment, both the literal and the figurative reality of this family and faction on New Capenna. He shows us the moment when Mr. Orfeo and crew have had enough and begin to fight back: we see expression, emotion, and the determination of a working class that won’t have another encroaching on what they’ve worked so hard to build (or destroy, for that matter). I’ve said this before, but watching Victor level up set after set and year after year, you just love to see it.

Mari, the Killing Quill by Rob Rey

Mari, the KIlling Quill by Rob Rey, oil on panel, 18” x 24”

Rob Rey is one of several IX regulars that join Magic in this new set, and his first card comes as a new Commander, Mari, the Killing Quill. Rey is known for his paintings of the “cosmic perspective” as he calls it, and can be instantly recognized by his deep colors, big bold brush strokes, and the immense propensity for storytelling woven into his work. We get that same treatment in Mari as she’s shown wall-to-wall, where accouterments abound and that fabulous sneer shows just the tiniest hint of vampire teeth, and your imminent danger.

I see something new every time I look at this painting, and it’s kept me coming back for more since I saw it for the first time. What an entrance Rob; we’re glad you’re finally here.

Prosperous Partnership by Evyn Fong

Prosperous Partnership by Evyn Fong. Digital.

Evyn Fong joins the Grand Art Tour for the first time with this beautiful Leyendecker-inspired work of geometric symmetry. For those that don’t know, J.C. Leyendecker is one of the most important illustrators of the early 20th century, famous for his advertisements and magazine covers, and he was creating images not unlike this one during the time period New Capenna is emulating. Fong noted on Twitter that Leyendecker studies are at the center of this piece, and she’s done a masterful job of capturing the zeitgeist of that time and placing it within our fantasy here and now. There’s a silent story being told, a window into the world of the regular folk of New Capenna. That’s no easy feat, and she’s done it masterfully.

Sanguine Spy by Dave Palumbo

Sanguine Spy by Davie Palumbo, oil on panel, 18” x 24”

Dave Palumbo is no stranger to the noir, and a large part of his personal work and other genre commissions outside Magic function in this realm. We’ve arrived in a detective’s office, but that is not its owner in the foreground. Instead we’re looking in on an Obscura spy stealing information, as the period lamplight burns, and she’s backlit from the hazy yellow light of the street lamps and vehicles outside. Pop this soundtrack on and take a deep look at this work. It’s as noir as it gets, and it’s a brilliant solo addition to this larger set.

Lagrella, the Magpie by Donato Giancola

Lagrella, the Magpie by Donato Giancola, oil on panel, 16” x 20”

Since Donato’s return to regular Magic commissions (which is something I think we should all be very grateful for) he has been a regular addition in my art-icles. This set is no different, and I’ve chosen a legendary creature from the master in Lagrella, the Magpie. This is a snapshot of her in her office next to the two things she loves most: her contracts and her aquarium. The verdigris bronze on the Victorian tank is breathtaking, a fantasy Wardian case created on a grand scale just for this character, and an artistic triumph in its own right outside the figure. Look closely, and you just might see two familiar faces swimming inside as well.

Social Climber by Carly Mazur

Social Climber by Carl Mazur. Traditional.

Mazur made quite the stir with her two artworks in the Strixhaven Mystical Archive, and returns with a new painting that very much embodies the style of her personal work, mixing flat composition and solid colors with exquisite detail and fine rendering. The combination is a visual smorgasbord fitting for this set of glitz and glamour, a literal in your face of how the other half lives on New Capenna. It’s a striking traditional artwork that reaches out and pulls the viewer into the frame, and breaks down that fourth wall instantaneously. I’ve been critical of Carly’s work in the past, yes, but not here. I love this piece, and it’s an absolute slam dunk inclusion in this set.

Most Wanted by Remi Jacquot

Most Wanted by Remi Jacquot. Digital.

This is Jacquot’s first Magic set, and yet another work that embodies the idea of legible abstraction, as we the viewer are invited to create the narrative of what we see. As we walk through it with our eyes, we center on Elspeth in her Golden age garb on the move on foot. Looking around we see a deco green and gold wallpaper, and it further situates us on what can only be New Capenna. A still closer exam reveals the shadow of the demon Ob Nixilis, and completes our story.

Jacquot has all but wrapped the entire storyline into a single artwork, without even so much as showing a face. It’s a dynamic and well rendered artwork (just look at the cloth of that cloak!) with supreme storytelling to boot. And you might not have even seen it before.

Speaking of Elspeth…

Elspeth Resplendent by Anna Steinbauer, Tom Roberts, & Kelley Harris (krharts)

Left: Elspeth Resplendent by Anna Steinbaur. Digital. Center: Elspeth Resplendent by Tom Roberts. Digital. Right: Elspeth Resplendent by Kelley Harris (krharts). Digital.

It’s unusual for me to include planeswalkers in the Grand Art Tour, not because planeswalker art is uninteresting, but because they’re often required to fit within a very specific set of criteria, without a lot of room for creative freedom. But as Elsepth returns to her home plane, and as such appears as we’ve never seen her before, we get a stylistic triptych that can’t be overlooked.

On the left, Planswalker artist extraordinaire Anna Steinbauer adds Elspeth to her roster of near two dozen Planeswalker artworks, showing her in a flourish of fancy as the lamplights burn bright overhead. Newcomer Tom Roberts illustrates Elspeth for the Golden Age frame, with hard lines and geometric backgrounds mixed with the softness and curvature of the Art Nouveau. And on the far right, another new artist and one of Magic’s few black female artists Kelley Harris paints Elspeth for the Deco Frame. An absolutely gorgeous work, we see Elspeth as those on New Capenna would, perfectly poised and ready for the challenges ahead; their hero in waiting. If it wasn’t before it’s ever so evident now in these three works; Magic’s best made it known why they’re still here, and Magic’s new folks made sure to show why they belong.

Wrapping Up

We’ve reached the end of our Streets of New Capenna Grand Art Tour. There was an unprecedented amount of new artists that joined the roster in this set, both as a part of the main expansion and amongst the various alternate artwork subseries—and to be blunt, they all went incredibly hard. Magic is still very much at the top of the mountain when it comes to commissions in the genre, and to see folks rise to the occasion when they get called up is part of what keeps me writing. Mixed with some of those returning veterans that are the definition of consistency, Streets of New Capenna has created some serious standouts amongst the close to 500 new pieces of artwork between the set and Commander decks.

The next Mirror Gallery article will again revisit the new idea of looking at these sets in 4D, or Disney’s Four Levels of Detail, and include close to two dozen more pieces of artwork I’ve yet to talk about. I’ll be out of the country when it publishes, but will jump back in to share and talk more about that New Capenna artwork when I return at the end of the month.

Remember, to see original #mtgart and other #vorthos related things, follow me on Twitter. Feel free to ask questions or retweet to continue the conversation. Thanks and see you next time!

Donny Caltrider has been playing Magic since 2002 and collecting original Magic art since 2017. He has an M.A. in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University and enjoys telling stories about art, objects, and the intersection of fantasy with real-life. You can find him on Twitter talking about #mtgart, museums, and other #vorthos related goodness. Follow along and continue the conversation!

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