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MECA grads find visual language for smart thoughts

 Look now, look again
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  September 26, 2013

‘BLEED’ Gouache and ink on paper by Jenny McGee Dougherty. 

The contemporary art of six MECA alums, women with graduation dates spanning 1995 to 2013, make up the school’s graduate Biennial. Titled “Ardor,” the show’s indeed a devoted one, studiously concerned with finding social, emotional, and conceptual ideas in new visual platforms.

Nine loud, dynamic paintings by Reesa Wood make a great intro. Each involves loosely figurative abstractions plied in synthetic colors and splattery brushstrokes, allowing the twin muses of memory and fantasy equal sway. The glowing and sickeningly attractive “Duck Lips” is Wood at her best, bleeding color fields and textures — most of them hardly complementary — to create subtle but distinct illusions of depth only barely suggesting figure and ground. Depth takes on allegorical dimensions in two series of smaller oil-painted panels, as Wood finds several workable surfaces within the same painting. The receded green in “Bunny” is visible through a thick translucent resin, busy black streaks that seem to propel two large bulbous forms at the top. Onto the outermost surface cling several thin strings of white, like puffy paint. In “Boobs,” we see the same bulbous forms inside the panel, but this time a large yellow shape has been glopped on, with a rough texture approximating a relief sculpture.

The painter Shirah Neumann, whose captivating canvases have been shown in local galleries as well as here before, has a particularly distinctive style. She employs an original vocabulary — lots of ornate tiles, jewel-like patterns, and reticulate forms; evidence of human touch and notions of beauty — yet almost all her works share a strange ethereal perspective that can’t possibly have a real-world reference. They have a post-Impressionistic glimmer, yet they’re also often dark and brooding, obsessive in a beautiful way. “Radiator 2” would be magnificent in large, its rich and rusty hues woven together and faintly glowing. And “Intergalactic Black Narcissus” finds the artist using her patterns as reflective surfaces, but in paintings with this much imagination, they could just as easily be magic portals.

Take a bird’s-eye view of a large metropolis and you’ll see something that resembles the electronics in a computer circuit board. Or think of the De Stijl artist Piet Mondrian, whose late paintings of jazzy, abstract grids inspired by New York nightlife made the same connection. Jenny McGee Dougherty’s works rely on a similar mechanism. Their rigid conversations of color and line recall a visual aesthetic of digital code, yet their logic is resiliently emotional, filled with inexplicable splashes of color and empty space where the pattern should continue. Clean, crisp, and brilliantly energetic, they benefit from being freed from the highbrow medium of contemporary painting, so they play especially well in the open facade of the front gallery. In the past, Dougherty has used different media to execute a similar formula; here, she assembles cut paper strips of gouache and ink into large frames, many of which end up looking like newfangled flags. They invite thoughts about the recombinations of social order, maybe the sensorial charge of taking a new path. In “Pavement Fail,” these patterns are rendered on the gallery wall as a backdrop for a pile of concrete road slabs; in “Lavender Sidewalk Excerpt,” they frame a worn strip of blown out street matter. Dougherty’s style and visual language are attractive and accessible, and so these forays with material and architecture — in other words the world outside the gallery — are genuinely exciting.

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