Many artists that the “Art World” has never heard of are only as good as the artists who take the trouble to make themselves known. To satisfy yourself, check out the exhibition of 20 paintings by Evanston artist Joan McLane.
McLane’s paintings, representing over 10 years of work, are beautiful abstract paintings – suggestive, slippery, but far from amorphous.
Before or after you leave, read McLane’s description of his work on her website. Many “artist statements” are poorly written and opaque. Not McLane. She begins :
“It’s hard for me to describe or categorize my work. My paintings are abstract; however, they often contain shapes that suggest moving figures. I paint in oils and several years ago I started incorporating pieces of fabric – linen, silk, cheesecloth – into my paintings; I now mostly use cheesecloth because its loose weave makes it a wonderful drawing medium for creating interesting flowing shapes.
Paintings that include unpainted materials often turn some people off. But it only takes a few seconds of looking at these paintings to realize how closely McLane incorporates cheesecloth mesh into his developing design for the paint. You don’t forget the fabric, but you don’t get stuck on it either. The mesh sometimes emerges from the plane of the painting, but not much, and she paints the surface of the mesh as skillfully as she paints the surface of the plain canvas.
Some of the shapes are drop-shaped pieces of fabric; others are stick figures, vaguely cartoonish, with long or short shreds of cheesecloth floating in curved tendrils. The fabric reinforces your interpretation of the particular forms of a given painting, rather than interfering with it. When we dimension the paintings from a distance, so as not to see the stitches of the fabric, we realize the strength of the forms themselves.
McLane is a terrific colorist. She generally avoids harsh juxtapositions of different colors and uniformly colored backgrounds. The color of these modestly sized square paintings will change as your eye passes through them. At all times the color is complicated, and one wonders how it reached such depth. The dominant impression is usually blue or blue-green, which helps give the stratospheric quality it seems to seek. Even where she deviates from this scheme and uses a tan background, there is a glow ready to break through or break through.
Due to the celestial backgrounds and the undulating outlines of the figures, these paintings have an eerie sense of airborne and movement. McLane’s term “fluid forms” is apt. In a pair called “Air Encounters I and II”, you can infer that the objects in the first image moved and changed shape by the time they were captured in the second.
The paintings are often as funny as they are beautiful – an unusual combination. McLane gave them ironic titles such as “The King and I”, “Stepping Out” and “Inebriate of Air” (a nod to Emily Dickinson). People in the gallery smile or laugh as they browse them.
McLane says she doesn’t start a painting with a particular design in mind, let alone a particular title. The design and the title emerge as his work progresses. When you look at one of these paintings for the first time, you will have your own idea of what it suggests. When you research her title, you’ll probably find her idea better, but she’s happy if you prefer yours.
The show takes place at Space 900, 816 Dempster St., through March 20. The closing reception is from 4 to 6 p.m. on March 19. You can also view the show by appointment by contacting McLane at [email protected]