November 11, 2008 · 5 Comments
This week’s Weekly has my review of Sarah McEneaney’s exhibit at Locks Gallery. Below is the copy with some pictures and a few additional words. More photos at flickr.
In her first solo show in Philadelphia since her 2004 Institute of Contemporary Art retrospective, Sarah McEneaney creates a world that is brighter, more manic and far more whimsical than the world most of us live in—and for that it is absolutely loveable. Now on view at Locks Gallery, the accoladed local artist’s autobiographical works are not a “true” or documentary picture of her life. “Absolutely edited, embellished, fantasized, and remembered” is how the artist characterizes her work. But the paintings are signifiers of what’s truly important in her life—quiet, beauty, companionship, work and engagement with the greater world.
McEneaney doesn’t work from photographs. These virtuoso egg tempera paintings—their saturated reds make them glow like jewels—are imaginings based on sketches of the real world. Her seemingly dead pan compositions are amazing accomplishments; They have the panoramic sweep of a Grandma Moses landscape and the architectural detail and skewed space of an Indian miniature. Seductive for their seeming simplicity, the works are complex narratives in the tradition of the old masters.
Studio NM — in which the artist lolls on a hammock in a busy, paint-spattered room oblivious to a dog barking and with a black cat looking at the viewer accusingly – even seems to quote from an old master, Manet‘s Olympia, only here the object of desire wears a hoodie and is the hard working artist at rest.
In McEneaney’s dreamy, artistic peaceable kingdom, figures and pets may float a little as if not quite connected to the earth, but everything is gounded in the real although the real of art where narrative can stretch to make a point or tell a better story.
Like a good story, these paintings build through the accumulation of details. Take Living Room, a large new work. This homey portrait of the artist at rest reveals her to be a lover of art books (she’s reading Maira Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty) and movies (stacked up near the television are Goodfellas, I Shot Andy Warhol and more) as well as a supporter of younger artists whose works are on her wall. There’s an Obama poster on the front door telling of her activism. The work is painted with brilliant colors, layered and scumbled and daubed and brushed on, to make it radiate with color and texture.
This and McEneaney’s other odes to domestic bliss and to the life of the artist are in a long tradition of artists painting from their lives—from the Impressionists and Matisse to David Hockney. But McEneaney is winking and nodding at art history in a way that’s thoroughly post-modern and cartoony. Her wry self-effacing sensibility owes something to R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman and other comic artists.
This is McEneaney’s first solo outing with Locks and the works sparkle in the blue chip’s large first floor space. Don’t miss Ellen Harvey‘s big installations upstairs. The British-born, New York artist was setting up when I visited the gallery last week and her autobiographical paintings and mirrored environments are a great companion show to McEneaney’s.
Sarah McEneaney: “Dog Heaven,” Through Dec. 20. Locks Gallery, 600 Washington Square South. 215.629.1000.