Previous Shows: 2013: Statement: Essay
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
KJV, Exodus, 20.4
Abstraction, at its core, stems from an unease with the physical world and the way it is portrayed. An extreme asceticism lies at its heart. It is dissatisfied with the false idols of representation.
Certain abstract painters are more conscious of this origin. They may endeavor to shed trappings and to strip from their art all that is unnecessary- all that is not pure.
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Today, a painter who draws a line between nature and image, who views art- making as a vocation and who wishes for an ideal, even when one is not possible, seems hopelessly out of step with current trends. But there are painters still at work who value the attitudes of Rouault, Pinkham Ryder, DeFeo, and Redon.
Dale McNeil is such a painter. While his current body of work makes use of symbol and structure, it continually chafes at and denies these artifices of representation as false and unclear, untrue and muddled.
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McNeil begins a painting with a seminal symbol, so long in use that it has become embedded in the universal unconsciousness. These familiar symbols are explored like ruins, through the layering of paint and scraping it away. With the use of transparent veils, and clots of paint and medium, these symbols are picked apart, demolished and built again into a new order. McNeil pushes beyond the original symbol in his search for meaning.
The resulting paintings transcend any fumbled mining for a modernist grail. Creation is a denial of life’s imperfection. McNeil’s crusting of marks and pigment, obfuscated form, and murky veils deny the inadequate meaning of the original symbol. Left is a record of a grand search that mixes human frailty and denial of the ideal, even as an ideal is sought. Resplendent rubble is left.
In the end, the greatest strength of McNeil’s paintings is this fleeting glimpse of the sacred.