Dan McCleary: Still Lifes
Astrid Preston: Between Worlds
Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica
August 7 through September 11 2021
By PETER FRANK, August 2021
No genre of painting could be more anodyne than flowers, right? Perhaps, but the floral history of art brims with vigor, passion, and even fury, as we know from vanitas still lifes and expressionist bouquets. Dan McCleary and Astrid Preston are known for their intimate, transportive subjects – McCleary for his stolid figures, Preston for her delicate gardens – but they stir drama and sensuosity out of virtuosic form and technique. The two artists’ recent emphasis on flowers (coincident, but perhaps triggered by the pandemic’s social muting) focuses them both on familiar forms but not-so-familiar obsessions.
McCleary’s focus, in fact, encompasses other still life subjects – fruit, in particular – while Preston’s attention to blooms does not treat them as natural arrangements. Both artists paint in oils, but to almost opposite effect: McCleary favors mostly muted, opaque colors (especially in his slate-gray backgrounds), while Preston devises an intoxicating array of luminous hues. Their roots are in 19th century French painting, to be sure, but McCleary descends from the mid-century near-tactile realism of Fantin-Latour and Monticelli, and ultimately early Cézanne – not to mention the Italian gravity of Morandi – while more and more, Preston conjures Redon and the color-world of post-Impressionism even as her ties to late Monet remain evident.
The influence of Pacific Asian painting can also be felt in both bodies of work. The title Preston has given her show, “Between Worlds,” seems to refer to the “world” of Impressionism and that of ukiyo-e, the “floating world” of Hokusai, certainly as her downpours of petals fall into aqueous fields of mysterious, indistinct depth, her floral maelstroms marrying Redon’s pastels to Monet’s water lilies in a Japanese ceremony. How different in heft and motion are McCleary’s bunches bursting from glass vases, or his studies of single stems, or his arrangements of mangoes, plums, nectarines, and so forth, set on a level plane and swaddled in crepuscular shadow. Dusky as they are, these simple depictions, harkening back to 17th century Spanish masters like Zurburan and Coton – and forward to McCleary’s contemporary Martha Alf – reflect all manner of available light, that in the gallery and that imagined by the painter.
For all the art-historical models they bespeak, the latest work by these two accomplished Los Angeles artists finally belong to an American artistic spirit, the “still small voice” posited against the presumptions of grandeur associated with American art (and life and land in general). Dan McCleary’s self-contained, self-possessed plants and fruits speak of a quieted, interiorized mind, while Astrid Preston’s nebulous flower showers provide a soothing, poignant caress-by-landscape. These veteran painters deal with how things look, allowing us to determine for ourselves how things feel. WM
PETER FRANK is an art critic, curator, and editor based in Los Angeles, where he serves as Associate Editor of Fabrik Magazine. He began his career in his native New York, where he wrote for The Village Voice and The SoHo Weekly News and organized exhibitions for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Alternative Museum. He is former Senior Curator at the Riverside (CA) Art Museum and former editor of Visions Art Quarterly and THEmagazine Los Angeles, and was art critic for LA Weekly and Angeleno Magazine. He has worked curatorially for Documenta, the Venice Biennale, and many other national and international venues. (Photo: Eric Minh Swenson)
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