Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stark and Menacing Land

"Vultures" 2008 Oil on Linen

Went to hear painter Conor McGrady give a talk for his new show "Green and Pleasant Land" which opened at Saltworks Gallery last Saturday.

McGrady, born and raised in Northern Ireland, said the work was an "exploration of power," asking "Where does power come from?" McGrady also experiments with the question of power's representation in each painting while leaving up the viewer the question of why do these particular subjects conjure it?

"Forest (Winter) 2008 Oil on Linen

Unlike his previous vibrant, colorful work, he wanted these images to be stripped down and stark, having a sense of silence." He wanted to "remove the context of time and place" in order to ask questions about and reflect on the symbol at hand.

"Wolves" 2008 Oil on Linen

He is interested in different cultural symbols for power, such as animals, but without becoming too literal. The work is symbolic of human strife, "a violence and chaos under the clean veneer." He wanted the work reduced to black voids, comparing these to violence as a means to "fill the psychological void," and clean white "meditative space."

Detail "Wolves"

Although the subject matter of the paintings had been simplified in style and color, I especially liked the strong detailing of brushstrokes outlining the animals and trees. McGrady referred to these as "auras" around the iconic symbols, as a way to further remove the symbol from the context of the canvas, giving a dual impression of isolation and significance.

For me, these brushstrokes also made more interesting paintings that could have otherwise been too sterile. The evidence of the artist's hand and process in the making of the work gives it an added personality and thoughtfulness.

"Pyre" 2008 Oil on Canvas

1.a pile or heap of wood or other combustible material.
2.such a pile for burning a dead body, esp. as part of a funeral rite, as in India.

"Silence II" 2006 Oil on Canvas

McGrady is interested in the "ambiguity of landscapes in times of war." There is a sense of tranquility and fear, a loaded silence.

Detail "Silence II"

McGrady said the work was not meant to be taken literally but instead was about a "broader human strife." The longer I spent with the work the more unsure I was that the stylization and simplification of the icons added to the point. Was there something lost in the cool minimalism of the work or was it adding to the focus and universal connection? No doubt McGrady wanted to avoid any direct cultural references but was the aesthetic lending its own type of interpretation or bias? The forests and animals almost looked like stencils, very clearly in the style of the moment, and perhaps were not stripping bare the enigma of fear as much as romanticizing it.

"Silent Forest" 2006 Oil on Canvas

The show is up at Saltworks until April 5th 2008. Check it out.

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