"The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random between the profusion of matter and of the stars, but that within that prison we can draw from ourselves images powerful enough to deny our nothingness." Andre Malraux

09 January, 2011

Jesse McCloskey

We are now one whole week into the year, & it's possible I have already seen the best gallery show of 2011. Jesse McCloskey's solo show at Claire Oliver is, in a word, stellar. One of the best I've seen in any medium in quite a while. What his medium is, though, is up for debate. He creates drawings, then builds up layers of painted paper on top of those...a couple dozen layers, maybe more, sometimes solid colors cut into shapes, sometimes drawn/painted images. He's definitely creating a drawing/painting of a sort, though it's collaged, & it's applied so deeply that it's quasi-sculptural. The technique alone is enough to hold some interest, though I realize he's not alone in using it (personal favorite Mark Bradford also uses collage sculpturally & on canvas, though his results are more definitively abstract). Happily, McCloskey doesn't rely on some trickery of technique; the imagery he constructs out of this process is truly fantastic.

The show is appropriately titled New World Nightmares, & it's easy to imagine these images as literally taken from the nightmares of a Puritan pilgrim to the untamed American wilderness in the 17th century. He's concocted a world of cartoonish witches & devils interacting with naively sexualized pilgrims & violent natives, all stylized into pseudo-woodcut likenesses that tug at the edges of your consciousness like -- well, like half-remembered dreams, which would seem to be point. Fantastical creatures are summoned out of fire, naked women are pestered by demons, shadows loom threateningly in the background, & space flows seamlessly between interior & exterior, sometimes not quite forming into either.

I didn't spot a weak piece anywhere in the show, though sizes & subjects varied quite a bit. This was my first stop on Saturday's tour of Chelsea, & I was seriously spoiled for the rest of the day. I'll write a separate post about some other work I encountered, but this one deserves its own dedicated space here on my huge, international hit of a blog. Some work from the exhibit....

The Magic Horse:

Girl with a Devil:

The Ghost:

Birch Skirmish:


  1. I have to agree with you, these are incredible. I wish I could see them live to get a better feel for the texture. I especially love The Magic Horse.

    And your blog is an international smash dahling!

  2. LOL, thanks Nathan. The Magic Horse is also my fave, & I suspect the artist's, as well, since it's the image chosen for the official show postcard. Certainly better in person, but I'm impressed how great they still look in 2D.

  3. Thanks for posting these! He really captures the mood of witchy woodcuts from the 17th century. I think I'm in love...

  4. Ahh, you've discovered one of my favorite artists and friend Jesse.
    The show comes down soon so get over and see them in person if you haven't yet.