Tuesday, January 8, 2008

I Hope You See It Before Sunday

Angela Fraliegh “not one girl I think, who looks on the light of the sun, will ever, have wisdom, like this

and Michael Jones McKean “The Astronomer, The Builder and The Volunteers

Inman Gallery

With consistent and national careers, it is nice to see former CORE residents Fraliegh and McKean back in Houston for a great show at Inman. The relationship between these two artists’ work is one of stark contrast, with emotional painting and calculating sculpture that clash in the gallery. Violent traces ebb through both bodies of work, first as an oppressive lacquer of oils overlapping intimate moments in Fraliegh’s large paintings and secondly through the splatters and disjointed juxtapositions of McKean’s installations. With both quirky representational painting and process-oriented conceptualism on top of the contemporary art pile, this show is a great look at two artists who have not finished growing.

Angela Fraliegh’s paintings have softened lately, gone are the looks of sheer terror glaring out at the viewer to confront one’s complicity in societal inequality. Love seems to be on display more often then not, with a pleasant touch appearing evident in these engrossing paintings. In slight she looks blankly over her lover’s shoulder. Black oil paint flows across the scene with tendrils of white suspended like smoke in the air. Her mouth is muted by a brushstroke; everything about the moment is obliterated except an arm in embrace and two faces. The protagonist, an ever-present self portrait, directs her eyes within the painting, blunting its relationship with the viewer. Instead an internal cohesion is evident; this relationship is being explored and changing in their eyes. The story she told from that time on and after reverse the dark palette Fraliegh has depended on, instead a warm glow lights the figure from behind. In concert, the oil paint dismembering her image is a translucent combination of organic oranges, buttery yellows, maroon and cream. As if on the beach early enough to catch the rays of a morning sun her face looks determined to overcome.

The tangibility of her treatments was less discernable in earlier work; the obscured atmosphere blended effortlessly into glimpses of figures or directed attention while on the same plane as the rest of the painting. As the artist has evolved the distance between the figures and their environment has become an overlap rather than a whole. In her only painting that looks back to history, as it was then, Fraliegh abandons the poured layers of oils for a slick surface of fur being pulled back and held; only her hands are visible grasping from below. Where the artist is today is represented clearly by her latest work, enthralled with love, filled with hope, and finished with the past.

History has always been a large touchstone for Michael Jones McKean; his materials reflect typical American life more than an artist’s tools. In complex installations he has taken over galleries with his sprawling narratives, like the 2007 River Boat Love Songs for the Ghost Whale Regatta at Diverseworks, but here the rules seem different as McKean takes on a smaller space with a different purpose. Thinking sculpturally, the three works on display were conceptualized differently without the physical space viewers can engage in with installations.

The Builder and Science is mounted as a low shelf on the wall with an eclectic assortment of objects on display. A chainsaw is draped in archival paper hardened with resin. A wooden box, a papier-mâché plant and board are sloppily painted white and arranged with a large triangular web of tubing. If this was a suburban garage there would not be a second thought about them, but here our attention can focus on the why and what of daily materials. The swirling associations provoked by McKean’s constructions vary wildly for different people. In this show his materials include a 27 pound meteorite and the fabric from a 1984 Ocean Pacific windbreaker; the more specific bits of information tie down the narratives McKean has woven into The Astronomer and the Wake and Volunteer. The artist’s strengths lie in his ability to draw the viewer into their own subjective world, and despite the large change in his presentation an imaginative narrative is still in place with a power beyond its humble origins.

via artshouston magazine