Claire McConaughy at The Painting Center

By ROBERT CURCIO, November 2019

Claire McConaughyNot So Far Away

The Painting Center; Chelsea, NY

October 29 – November 23, 2019

Claire McConaughy presents 14 oil paintings that expands upon her concerns of landscape, abstraction and representation in her recent exhibit entitled Not So Far Away, at The Painting Center until November 23.  By combining on site sketches with photographic documentation and her own recollections, McConaughy’s evocative landscapes are a product of a state of mind and process rather than the depictions of particular locations.

Suede Blue Lake, 2019, oil on canvas, 72" x 60"

In Suede Blue Lake and Cerulean Lake, both 2019, the paintings begin in the foreground by making a theatrical entrance.  A large dark and solid branch heavily looms in the upper left foreground of Cerulean Lake disclosing a landscape at center stage behind it much like a curtain being lifted at a theater.   While similar branches in Suede Blue Lake create a scrim by rising from the lower right corner and across from the upper left corner, almost deterring the view of a lake.  Once revealed, the pliant screens of the paintings coalesces into an image of a landscape.  The lakes and skies are awash in delicate blues and whites gently flowing into one another with wisps of yellow and slight touches of green.  Off in the horizon, a strip of land of rich burnt umbers, candy pinks and hints of red bisects the canvases.  Like a theater performance, McConaughy’s paintings loosely depicts how reality is a semi-manipulated situation.

In a smart installation decision, McConaughy has Interlaced Sunset and Beach Pines, both 2019, facing each from opposite ends of the exhibition. Two paintings that are very dissimilar though they have one major central element in common - amid a stand of deepest dark blue tree trunks and branches there is a shooting trail of intense and vibrant color that comes crashing through the paintings.  The viewer can consider these visual disturbances as vivid memories of sunsets, as suggested by one of the titles, or frozen computer glitches of McConaughy’s photographs. Regardless of how the viewer considers the images, McConaughy within the paintings positions an acute criticality towards representation as to the unpredictability of images and the tenuousness of memories as metaphors for the precariousness of our realities. 

Interlaced Sunset, 2019, oil on canvas, 48" x 72"

In Interlaced Sunset the disruption is in the top third of the painting situated between two solid tree trunks and drooping branches of pine needles, comes bursting through from the left side as one single forceful brushstroke packed with “out of the tube” vibrant yellow and red.  A second streak of color is just below the main one and placed behind the tree trunks just hovering in mid-painting.  McConaughy deftly offsets all this intensity by placing a strip mall-like group of buildings painted in broad flat strokes of fuzzy pinks and crimson reds with linear touches of deep burgundy reds capped by a strip of muted green and blue.  Of special note, this is the only exhibited painting with a human presence, albeit somewhat ethereal.   

While Interlaced Sunset is an amazing painting, the most recent painting in the exhibit, Beach Pines, is where McConaughy outshines herself.  It is a delicate and subtle painting that needs to be viewed in its entirety and then slowly a much-needed closer look.  Begin at the bottom of the painting where the incident occurs, then move slowly across the mid-section of bare branches and pine needles, finally reach for the right upper corner where three clouds float.  The phenomenon is a collection of straight broad brushstrokes of lavender coming from the lower right corner into the painting are interlaced within the gestural dark blue tree trunks against a background linear cloud.  The lavender is contrasted by bright yellow highlights sparsely, though strategically placed along the branches leading the viewer to those three fluffy blueish tinted clouds.  All of which is against a background of deeply saturated crisp blue sky. WM

Robert Curcio

Robert Curcio is a writer, curator, and consultant to art fairs and artists.

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