Sue McNally: ORDER, DISORDER
Overlap, Newport, RI
Through April 13, 2023
By D. DOMINICK LOMBARDI, March 2023
The newly and beautifully renovated Overlap gallery building features a number of components: The Project Space, The Annex Gallery, The Retail Gallery and Artist Studios, all offering an excellent venue for the visual arts in Newport, Rhode Island to thrive. For their inaugural exhibition, Gallery Founder Susie Matthews and Gallery Coordinator Alicia Renadette have selected the work of a longtime local artist Sue McNally to kick off this new venture.
McNally’s five largest paintings are featured in the lower level Project Space, while one medium sized piece, and a few dozen smaller works can be found in the Annex at the front entrance. The largest painting in the exhibition is My New England Home (2023), is a sullen seascape featuring heavy storm clouds that quickly gather almost totally obliterating a dazzling sunrise. The scalloped sky, which reminded me of the type Roger Brown often used in his paintings, completely and forcefully compresses the vertical space like a car-crusher at a junkyard. Offsetting that force on the right is an odd bunch of fiery flora, a crimson column that affords any unfortunate beachcomber time to escape this drama, while the muted pink, purple and crimson sand sends us its chill. The overall effect is one of alternating turbulence and peace, what New Englanders have come to know living near the sea, especially when seasons change or storms edge in. Nearby, there is a video monitor that shows the various states and changes the artist has made through the making of My New England Home, as one can begin to see just how much McNally wrestles with alternating technique, addition and subtraction of color and elements, and the overall narrative drive of her work.
On a nearby wall is View (2022), a tricky, almost square play on perspective and representation where a curious azure pole parts a patch of windswept and seawashed gray growth. It’s almost as if nature is in peril, bending back, pitted against the awkwardly imposing column of blue in the foreground and the yellow sky that flares up in the background. Perhaps a metaphor for what is going on in Ukraine, at least in the artist’s subconscious. Next is Close Tree (2022), with its strange, flag-like composition and dynamic angular lines. The large tree on the left, with its very tactile bark, and the central areas where the artist changed the ‘negative’ blue space in specific patches within the imposing silhouettes speaks volumes about how hard and meticulously McNally works to make her work look fresh and spontaneous. I can just picture the artist sitting in a ragged studio chair, endlessly staring at this painting until a visual flash prompts change. I am also reminded here, at least how it looks to this viewer, that Van Gogh painted in the blue background After he painted the limbs and flowers in Almond Blossom (1890).
My High Desert Home (2022) is the most cheerful work in the exhibition - full of optimism in its color, while the arching orange foreground implies a dreamscape. There are also entire areas in the gray background where it appears the artist painted out large swaths of canvas that might have been too busy or distracting. Whatever happened in McNally’s journey in this instance, it all came together in the end. The last large piece in the Project Space is Fog (2022), which also happens to be my favorite painting in the exhibition. Here, you can best see how McNally both applies and removes paint, how the texture of some of her old underpainting was left as pentimento. The overall effect of the narrative has a strong spiritual presence, a stunning and wholly unforgettable image. It reminds me of Charles E. Burchfield (1893–1967) representations of nature in all of its awesome beauty and power. Or how Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847–1917) brought an unmistakable bottomless mood to the landscape. Fog does it all with mystery and energy, conflict and charm, as life and death dance as the most unlikely partners.
The smallest works are presented salon-style, and hang in the Annex space of Overlap. They are far more intimate than the larger paintings - very personal - and much too vague to be easily interpreted. They range from the depth of the subconscious to the most banal juxtapositions that inhabit the periphery of all of our daily lives. Here, McNally shows us it is in the seeing, the framing of facts in the picture plane where it all comes together as something that must be stated, whether or not it speaks to anyone else.
Overall, McNally’s paintings are very much about the process - her technical prowess - and how that evolves and changes day to day. It’s also about how malleable both the physical act of painting and one’s own unique vision unfolds along the way depending on mood, circumstance or experience. And like a sponge, McNally takes in more than anyone’s psychological or cognitive existence can bear, so she needs to squeeze off or eradicate whatever is unnecessary in the moment. The best part is, we get to see her paintings, affording us all a glimpse of what goes on, on the other side of the studio door.
Sue McNally: ORDER, DISORDER ends April 13. For more information go to their website https://www.overlapnewport.com/ WM
D. Dominick Lombardi is an artist, art writer and curator based in New York. A 45-Year retrospective of his art, which was curated by T. Michael Martin, has traveled from the Clara M. Eagle Gallery at MSU in Western Kentucky in 2019, to the Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery of Contemporary Art, Ent Center for the Arts, UCCS in Colorado Springs in 2021 – next moving to the Dowd Gallery at SUNY Cortland, New York in February, 2022. Some of his writing credits include the New Art Examiner (1997-98), ARTnews (1997), The New York Times (1998-2005), Juxtapoz (2002), Art in Asia (2007-2009), The Huffington Post (2012-2018), ARTES (2016-present), CultureCatch (2006-present), and dArt International magazine (2005-present). Lombardi’s most recent curatorial projects are “LandX” for Red fox Contemporary in Pound Ridge, NY (2021), “A Horse Walks Into a Bar” for the Hampden Gallery at UMASS Amherst, MA, (2020) and “I Am…” for the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, FL, (2020). Contributor portrait by Danh Nguyen.view all articles from this author