In her solo show at 490 Atlantic Gallery, New York based painter Claire McConaughy features landscapes depicted in vivid colors and expressive linear marks. In Delicate Rainbow for instance, the painting plays on tension between horizontal, vertical, and diagonal orientations – an unexpected pale pink flow becomes a backdrop horizon to green vegetation spreading its limb-like branches diagonally upwards; on the top, blue-purple brush strokes depicting sky or water, lead the eye sideways, and then right above, a surprising orange linear brush stroke with the other rainbow colors hinted, stretch across the middle top.
Can you tell me about the paintings in your show and what would you like to share about your process?
The paintings in Nearby derive from visual experiences that are transformed though painting. They are not depictions of actual places even though my personal relationship to landscape is very deep having grown up in the Appalachians with abundant woods, lakes, and streams. I don’t exclusively work with landscape but have found a wellspring of information there and nature inspires me on many levels. The history of landscape in art, literature, and film, can make a contemporary interpretation seem daunting, but in these works I use landscape as a catalyst for the painting. The color, line, space, mystery, discovery, nuance, and drama that are all inherent in nature are also present in painting.
Color and mark making are key elements in my paintings. I like combining thick expressively applied paint with linear drawing because of the variation and unlikely contrasts that occur. The exchange between different paint applications can turn a representational tree into a painting of what a tree can evoke, the memory of a tree, or a tree as an entirely different operator in the narrative of the painting. Also, the paint application can deny the natural space and create relationships that can be exciting and disorienting. For example, in Sky in the Tree, there are bold pink brush strokes that in a logical space would be far behind the tree, but in this painting, they are visible through the tree trunk in the foreground. And in Cloud Blossoms, white clouds appear in the sky in front of the treetops instead of in deep space. The unnatural high-key color also contributes to the disorientation and movement away from traditional landscape.
In all my paintings I try to maintain a feeling of spontaneity. It can be tough because I rework passages many times and sometimes make preliminary paintings where I work out problems before going to the final pieces. The image I had in mind when starting Sky in the Water was so stunningly beautiful that I put it aside for quite a while even though I knew I wanted to work with it. It was a beautiful sunset above a lake, the clouds were illuminated by pink-orange light and were reflected in the water. They were so gorgeous that I didn’t think I could use it for a painting because it might seem false or too romantic, but I was compelled to try. It took a few versions before I could resolve Sky in the Water and Sunset Surface (from a similar image of clouds reflected in water) and still keep them looking fresh and not overworked.
One of the hardest paintings in the show to make was Fragile Rainbow. The top section was waiting for an event to counter the large area of complex marks at the bottom. I wasn’t interested in making images of clouds or a sun, but when I decided on a rainbow it was even harder because a rainbow is a loaded image. It can look saccharine in an instant, but I knew that a rainbow was right for the painting. After many tries the shape, placement and application came together. Almost all my work gets resolved through struggle, compromise and surrender to the specific needs of the painting.
All photos courtesy of the artist.
Claire McConaughy is a painter who lives and works in New York. Her paintings are reactions to the process of painting and the history of landscape. McConaughy earned her MFA in painting from Columbia University and BFA from Carnegie Mellon University. She has exhibited in galleries and alternative spaces including, The Drawing Center, Zürcher Gallery, The Painting Center, Therese A. Maloney Art Gallery, College of St. Elizabeth, Montserrat College of Art, and many others. She has received residencies at the Ucross Foundation, Vermont Studio Center and Santa Fe Art Institute. Her work has been reviewed in artcritical, White Hot Magazine, Hamptons Art Hub and other publications.
Claire McConaughy: Nearby at 490 Atlantic Gallery 490 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217 Sat-Sun 12-6pm and by appointment Through December 19, 2021