Sue McNally’s whimsical series of self-portraits at Auxiliary Projectsresemble pages from a carefully edited diary. Deeply personal, humorous and honest, most of these drawings depict a frontal view of the artist in various states of mind. Caricature-like with sometimes darker undertones, her drawings reveal a no fuss look at aging, femininity and change.
Executed with quick-drying water-based materials that don’t leave much room for change beyond what McNally describes as “rash covering of problem areas,” the precise lines and washes create a consistent form throughout the intimate gallery space and as a whole they exude a genuine love of drawing. The artist says that she has been using her collection of materials, consisting of ink, watercolor, charcoal and gesso, for many years.
There is no daily methodology to her self-portrait practice, “I draw in spurts, generally when I am traveling or in Utah,” she explains. Yet, her process is quite systematic, “I sit at a table with a mirror in front of me with a stack of paper and I make quick drawings while observing my face, one after the other. Once I finish each drawing, I put it aside to dry and once it is dry, I add it to a stack of completed drawings. I will do a bunch of these drawings over a period of time while listening to the radio. When I am done, I put the stack of drawings away without looking at what I have made.”
Only after creating a large grouping, will she look at the collection and decide what needs to be edited. Her decision is based only on the quality of the drawing, while “likeness has nothing to do with the final consideration,” she emphasizes. That being said, she is interested in the similarities between the drawings in terms of consistency in line quality, material use and humor. “I look for and identify those consistencies after I have made a bunch of drawings and can consider the work as a whole, then I look through the stack one at a time creating a title in a quick and responsive manner just as I physically made each drawing,” she elaborates. Mounting the frameless drawings next to each other, with hand-written titles in pencil directly on the wall, created a straight forward installation which enhanced the diaristic and introspective feel of the show.
Besides the self-portraits at Auxiliary Projects, McNally makes paintings and drawings inspired by the American landscape. Living in small communities in Rhode Island and rural Utah, she enjoys ample access to an outdoor life and wild expanses. Even though she works indoors, she explains that this experience of the outdoors keeps her connected to the work she is making. “For me, working in quiet places is what inspires me most,” she asserts. Indeed, as a group, McNally’s expressive and precise marks echo patterns, rhythm,s and cycles in the natural world, coalescing fragmentary states of being into a cohesive and multi-layered landscape of the self.