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Weekly Update – Painting Structures at Swarthmore


This week’s Weekly has my review of Painting Structures at Swarthmore’s List Gallery. Below’s the copy with some pictures. More photos at flickr.

Seven painters reimagine the city at List Gallery.

Yvonne Jacquette, Walmart and Other Big Box Stores. Oil on canvas.

Artists often portray the world as a mess. Since their pessimistic perspective is hardly news, it often fails to excite. “Painting Structures” at Swarthmore’s List Gallery offers a different take.

The show’s seven painters hold thoughtful and passionate views on art, architecture, urban sprawl, cloverleaf interchanges and big box stores. But in their poetic works, issues unfold slowly—with beauty and without hectoring.

Paintings featuring architecture have been with us forever. Once perspective was discovered, artists delighted in defining the cubic rectangles we live and work in. But for contemporary artists, buildings can be seen as a reflection of the state of the human—as well as the state of bricks and mortar.

Sarah McEneaney, RB Fisher. Tempera on panel.
Sarah McEneaney, RB Fisher. Tempera on panel.

Sarah McEneaney’s R.B. Fisher is a great example of how this autobiographical artist (McEneaney once worked as a carpenter) loves the spaces she inhabits and how she translates them into scenes that are solid and majestic—and yet somehow improbable. Through the magic of color and an almost manic attention to detail, McEneaney’s tempera works on wood panels depict the world as if in a dream.

Grass is Kelly green; bricks are blood red, and the walls of the Skowhegan studio are a shade of pink that can’t be found in Architectural Digest. McEneaney interiorizes her experience in the huge airy studio in the woods. It’s rosy here, and her female presence has colored the spare masculine space with a color no man could ever conjure.

Other works by the artist convey her anxiety about encroaching developments in her neighborhood, where the pile-up of condo walls creates canyons that block the light in her garden and encroach on her privacy.

When McEneaney opposes something, she delivers her message in a deadpan fashion, brick by brick, and lets you come round to her meaning.

Yvonne Jacquette, painter of nighttime flyover scenes featuring suburban shopping malls lit up like Candyland fantasies, likewise presents buildings that are cheery, and cars and trucks that are “aw shucks” pleasant.

Upon further study, however, you know those hundreds of cars, thousands of lights and big parking lots are blights upon the land, and the prettiness of the picture mimics the false cheerfulness of stores that tell you they’re your best friend.

Sharon Horvath, in her series of baseball stadium works, induces reveries of cosmic proportions. Her stadiums float like intergalactic space stations, their web-like walls suggesting neural nets or electronic circuit boards, glowing like stars filled with boundless energy.

Sharon Horvath, Dunn’s Field.

No stadium could live up to Horvath’s vision, but her idea of the arena as a big floating ship holding dreams is an amazing depiction of the power of sports—and the power of massive arenas.

Rackstraw Downes, Stanley Lewis, David Kapp and Kevin Wixted tread more conventional waters with their depictions of real or imagined urban space. It’s a very good show, and one that demonstrates contemporary painters working the difficult terrain of social commentary without succumbing to cant or rant.

Painting Structures
Through Mar. 30. List Gallery, Swarthmore College, 500 College Ave., Swarthmore. 610 328 8488.