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A lot of artists that the “Art World” has never heard of are just as good as the artists who take the trouble to make themselves famous. To satisfy yourself of this, go see the show of 20 paintings by Evanston artist Joan McLane.
McLane’s paintings, which represent more than 10 years of work, are gorgeous abstract paintings – suggestive, slippery, but far from amorphous.
Before or after you go, read McLane’s description of her work on her website. Many “artist’s statements” are ill-written and opaque. Not McLane’s. She starts off:
“It is difficult for me to describe or categorize my work. My paintings are abstract; however, they often contain forms which suggest animated figures. I paint in oil and several years ago I began to incorporate bits of fabric – linen, silk, cheesecloth – into my paintings; I now use mostly cheesecloth because its loose weave makes it a wonderful drawing medium to create interesting, fluid forms.”
Paintings that include nonpaint materials often turn some people off. But it only takes a few seconds of looking at these paintings to realize how tightly McLane integrates cheesecloth mesh into her developing conception of the painting. You don’t forget about the fabric, but you don’t get stuck on it either. The mesh sometimes emerges from the plane of the painting, but not by much, and she paints the mesh surface as skillfully as she paints the plain canvas surface.
Some of the forms are blob-shaped pieces of fabric; others are sticklike, vaguely cartoonish figures with long or short shreds of cheesecloth floating away in curved tendrils. The fabric reinforces your interpretation of the particular forms in a given painting, rather than interfering with it. When you size up the paintings at a distance, so that you can’t see the mesh of the fabric, you realize how strong the forms themselves are.
McLane is a formidable colorist. She usually avoids harsh juxtapositions of different colors and uniformly colored backgrounds. The color in these modest-size square paintings will change as your eye moves across them. At any point the color is complicated, and you wonder how she achieved such depth. The prevailing impression is usually blue or blue-green, which helps give the stratospheric quality she seems to be pursuing. Even where she departs from this scheme and uses a tanlike background, there is a glow either ready to break through or actually breaking through.
Because of the skylike backgrounds and the undulating outlines of the figures, these paintings have an uncanny sense of suspension in air, and of motion. McLane’s term “fluid forms” is right. In a pair called “Aerial Encounters I and II,” you might infer that the objects in the first picture moved and changed shape by the time they were captured in the second.
The paintings are often funny as well as beautiful – an unusual combination. McLane has given them wry titles such as “The King and I,” “Stepping Out,” and “Inebriate of Air” (a nod to Emily Dickinson). People in the gallery smile or chuckle as they peruse them.
McLane says she doesn’t start out a painting with a particular conception in mind, much less a particular title. Both the conception and the title emerge little by little as she works. When you first look at one of these paintings, you’ll form your own idea of what it suggests. When you look up its title, you’ll likely find her idea better, but she’s happy if you prefer your own.
The show is at Space 900, 816 Dempster St., until March 20. The closing reception is 4-6 p.m. March 19. Or you can see the show by appointment by contacting McLane at email@example.com.