Contributed by Patrick Neal / Taking in the paintings of Maeve D’Arcy, currently on view at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, I kept thinking of the defunct movie rental store Kim’s Video that had long occupied Manhattan’s East and West Villages. These places were legendary repositories of arthouse films, and D’Arcy’s malaphoric titles hint at cinema, old movies and analog technologies. The colors, simple shapes and surfaces of her paintings also exude a scuffed, quirky, retro vibe that harks back to faded memorabilia or the spools and windows of plastic video cassettes. These features triggered my nostalgia for an imperfect, scrappier past as well as unearthing recollections of favorite haunts in old neighborhoods.
D’Arcy’s show, her first solo at Markel, is titled “Detritus” and includes ten, mostly square, abstract paintings on panel or canvas, in acrylic and oil with occasional mists of spray paint. They are composed of tiny dots and dashes that should be examined up close as well as from a distance. In this case especially, online viewing experience is no substitute for seeing the artwork in the gallery.
D’Arcy undergirds her compositions with loose gestural strokes overlaid with constellations of tightly controlled circles and sticks. She seems to roughen up the underlying surfaces with patches of dribbly or bumpy oil paint or dried acrylic with raised or abraded edges. She renders looped, serrated, and columnar motifs through either blocks of paint or clustered dot formations. Recurrent shapes resembling tulips or rose petals appear as apparitions beneath the surface or rise to the top. Interesting derivations occur here and there. They include X- or C-shaped marks sprinkled into the waves of stippled dots; etched, scratchy linear marks that go against the grain; and, occasionally, single, long uninterrupted strokes.
Using this economical toolkit, D’Arcy conjures abstract terrains that suggest landmasses, borders, maps, coasts, caves, mountains, countertops and tables. Alongside these iconic, simplified configurations is more urgent and frenetic mark-making. The variety of palpable forms create psychological spaces both intimate and vast, anecdotal as well as grand, which factor into the gestalt, size and narrative aspects of the work. D’Arcy describes her process as both a transcription of time passing and a memory-laden meditation on place and history. Either way, we get inside her head.
D’Arcy is a sensitive colorist. All of her works have subtle, limited palettes, often in lime and pine greens, yellows, and peach. Sometimes the paint has the dry quality of gouache; at other times the surfaces are shiny. The Gameshow Network has underlying sections of colored shapes that seem almost like tectonic plates, overlaid with canary-colored ground and further with pink and red trim. A frame of red fencing formed by linear tic-tic-tic strokes surrounds the panel, looking a bit like the Great Wall of China or a train-track rambling across the continent. These short, obsessive, parallel lines carry over to Do the Right Thing, but in that painting they are more symmetrical and regular, stacked across the picture plane as if D’Arcy were ticking off days like Robinson Crusoe stranded on a desert island, or multitasking as she painted to regimenting background noise.
D’Arcy’s dots appear as flurries or arranged straight up-and-down and side-to-side, swarming the fields of her paintings to create imperfect squares within squares. Sometimes she renders patchworks of diagonals or stripes, as in Fragile Cowboys, which recalls painter Jennifer Bartlett’s use of Q-tips to dab Testors enamel on sequential steel plates. Possum Priest in the Borough of Queens, painted with subtle salmon and mauve, has gentler cloud like formations below the surface, and the clusters of dots range from tiny to larger dabs, twisting and turning to make wave-like patterns that spread out like a maze of crescent streets. Here, as in Cold Cuts, an ellipse-like cul-de-sac or head shape looms up from the bottom of the panel.
The temporal and computational aspects of D’Arcy’s work put me in mind of Jed Perl‘s essay “The Time Element,” in which he considers works that ask the viewer to absorb the disparate, transportive qualities of a given piece. A painter like Andrew Forge uses pointillist dots within the frame of the canvas suggestive of a perceptual/bodily experience with which to evoke place. While other contemporary artists, like Daniel Zeller, Alyssa Fanning, and Joey Parlett, apply obsessive mark-making drawn from mediated sources to conjure up complex landscapes.
D’Arcy’s work is related but still very different. It is a form of existential process painting that openly embraces the imaginings of narrative. She does a lot with a little, using her limited glyphs and painterly expanses to suggest reveries. Using techniques that are both graphic and perceptual, her surfaces are scrupulously raw and unkempt and the imperfections generate visual interest and psychic shudders. D’Arcy’s show emphatically and winningly underscores the vitality of the handmade and the connection of mind to body, imparting a unique sensibility through subtle inflection.
“Maeve D’Arcy: Detritus,” Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, 529 W. 20th Street, Suite 6W, New York, NY 10011. Through December 12.
About the author: Patrick Neal is a painter, freelance art writer and longtime resident of Long Island City. His work is included in the inaugural edition of the new online literary arts journal Exquisite Pandemic, founded by author Rick Whitaker. He recently participated in the virtual exhibition “Lost in Isolation,” curated by Void Collective and was a visiting artist at New Jersey City University.
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