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: