“Claire McConaughy: Not So Far Away,” the larger of two exhibitions currently at The Painting Center, confirms Claire McConaughy’s aptitude for capturing light: the most sought after and probably most elusive component of landscape painting. McConaughy’s considerable skill in expressive brushwork that maintains the essential character of each topographical element is another attribute confirmed through the ten paintings on view, each featuring trees. Her talents in these two areas alone place her in the caliber of landscape painters exhibiting in museums and in New York galleries, if you know where to look.

McConaughy’s encompassing perspective indicates ambition beyond the conventional markers and moves into matters of process and memory. Following the clue provided in the upholstered title, Suede Blue Lake, 2009, one feels the icy motif as palpably as the sheltered vantage point from which it was observed; some domestic refuge, perhaps a window near a fireplace. We learn this implied shelter is, in fact, the darkened interior of the artist’s camera from the catalogue essay, written by Barbara O’Brien, an independent art curator and critic as well as a former Executive Director of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

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"Suede Blue Lake" by Claire McConaughy, 2019. Oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

"Suede Blue Lake" by Claire McConaughy, 2019. Oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

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Though McConaughy’s paintings display the freshness of direct observation, they are of a process involving photographs taken on trips home to the artist’s native Pennsylvania that are brought back to her Brooklyn studio where liberties unavailable to a time-constricted plein-air practitioner are thoughtfully exploited. A restructuring of each scene becomes the primary focus, an exercise conducted rather surprisingly through one of the more guileless techniques available to a painter.

The foreground trees in Cerulean Lake, 2019, are painted over what appear to be completed backgrounds. In the context of traditional landscape painting, to which McConaughy is clearly committed, this type of overpainting is a controversial choice. Frowned upon, especially by art school instructors struggling to differentiate sound practice from the pseudo-outsider mischief of de-skilling enthusiasts, McConaughy risks her realist credentials by parsing memory into stacked layers of near separate membranes. The teetering results read as a daring and essentially ongoing experiment.

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"Curelean Lake" by Claire McConaughy, 2019. Oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

"Curelean Lake" by Claire McConaughy, 2019. Oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

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This overt layering suggests the disjointed elements of memory. It’s especially promoted in Interlaced Sunset, 2019, a draftsman-like take dominated by a sweep of bright yellow sky that passes both behind and in front of the same tree. Having adjusted to the verity of the artist’s vision in canvases like Close to the Moon, 2019, in which the artist dabbles lightly in similar structural contradictions, encountering Interlaced Sunset proves startling.

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"Close to the Moon" by Claire McConaughy, 2019. Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

"Close to the Moon" by Claire McConaughy, 2019. Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

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"Interlaced Sunset" by Claire McConaughy, 2019. Oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

"Interlaced Sunset" by Claire McConaughy, 2019. Oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

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In the poster-like Redon and the Sun, 2019, its artificial emphasis is achieved referentially by the nod to 19th century eccentric Symbolist, Odilon Redon, and materially by independent layers of color, coarsely applied like the overlapping separations of late 1960s Andy Warhol.

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"Redon and the Sun" by Claire McConaughy, 2019. Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

"Redon and the Sun" by Claire McConaughy, 2019. Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

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In contrast to McConaughy’s explicit structural focus, Mona Brody’s abstractions in her solo show “Distancing” are also layered though applied apparently in preparation for surgically delicate eradications. Sinewy forms emerge from near black fields, realized by selectively shedding tissue-thin paint films. "Distancing" is installed in the Project Room and is curated by Shazzi Thomas, Director of The Painting Center.

Any number of methods for removing paint may have been employed in Demarcation, 2019, but none are clearly discernable. With an uncanny sense of becoming, forms appear as if of their own volition. Allusions to young trees, the folds of a rose or a standing vase complicate these otherwise purely abstract pictures. Figures, such as they are, read as mimetically vague but visually assertive. Subtle changes in color from warm to cool or dark to light hold a viewer’s attention to surface excavation and what the artist has discovered in their breach.

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"Demarcation" by Mona Brody, 2019. Oil, shellac, wax on linen, 30 x 24 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

"Demarcation" by Mona Brody, 2019. Oil, shellac, wax on linen, 30 x 24 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

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Where McConaughy’s exhibition title “Not So Far Away” implies confident spatial projection, Brody’s title, “Distancing” suggests uncertainty, estimation: a tentative groping through a sleepwalker’s retinal ghosts. Seemingly familiar objects disperse, only to be replaced with alternative readings.

Committed to abstraction while remaining open to what her process reveals Through a Different Lens, 2019, joins what appears to be a slender tree trunk wrapped in ribbon to a Newmanesque zip of ochre on the opposite side of a smoky all-over film, the texture of which is defined by traces of previous markings left exposed. Distinctions between abstraction and figurative fade to irrelevance.

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"Through a Different Lens" by Mona Brody, 2019. Oil, shellac, wax on linen, 60 x 40 inches. Courtesy The Painting Center.

"Through a Different Lens" by Mona Brody, 2019. Oil, shellac, wax on linen, 60 x 40 inches. Courtesy The Painting Center.

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Brody’s preference for instinctive selection over formulaic predictability brings alchemy to mind, a term of reference she herself uses to describe her highly intuitive method. The delicacy of Operating from Within, 2019, suggests the probationary nudging one imagines an alchemist would perform sifting through what their process has left them. In less metaphysical terms, the canvas appears as if subjected to the vigilant skimming of an archeological dig. Great care is taken to preserve the smallest incidents and accidents — a swipe here, a rivulet there.

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"Operating From Within" by Mona Brody, 2018. Oil and wax on linen, 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

"Operating From Within" by Mona Brody, 2018. Oil and wax on linen, 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy of The Painting Center.

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Despite separate installations, such parings are the essence of The Painting Center’s mission—to initiate and encourage dialogue among painters and those who value it as an art form. Whether parings are calculated or serendipitous doesn’t matter a great deal. Chance is part of the game. The consideration of a painting is no less intuitive than painting itself.

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BASIC FACTS: "Claire McConaughy: Not So Far Away" and "Mona Brody: Distancing" is on view October 29 to November 23, 2019 at The Painting Center, 547 West 27th Street, 5th floor, New York, NY 10001. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. www.thepaintingcenter.org.

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Copyright 2019 Hamptons Art Hub LLC. All rights reserved.

 

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