A STUDIO VISIT: LOUISE McCLARY

DOING A GOOD THING IN ONE PLACE

Louise McClary is a native of Cornwall and is well known for producing evocative landscape paintings with an emphasis on colour, linear rhythm and an effective use of chiaroscuro. Her work is informed, geographically, by the Lizard Peninsula and from her own expansive garden developed with her partner, Matt Robinson. With a Quaker background and an interest in Buddhism her practice is more broadly, and politically, affected by vital ecological concerns.

McClary’s paintings are held in many private collections in the UK and USA, and several galleries represent her, including Artwavewest in Dorset. I travelled to Cornwall in the summer of 2016 to see the latest developments in her painting. On this occasion, I was left alone in the Caervallack studio at her home in St Martins, near Helston. In retrospect, this was a mini-writing residency, lasting just two hours or so. The subsequent realisation, and gestation, of this text took a further nine months to complete.

‘Doing A Good Thing In One Place’ not only constitutes an experiment in a form of reviewing a body of work, but also attempts to connect with the spirit of McClary’s painting that accompanies the visual into the metaphysical. Like the works in the artist’s studio, a text can be speculative, where language trips and meanders: extracting questions rather than answers. And, unlike a more ‘journalistic’ review that is written with some urgency to meet a deadline, the prose poem, with many possibilities for form and content, demands time to dig deeper into the relationship between the visual and the written form.

010 - LMc Large canvas in studio

 

DOING A GOOD THING IN ONE PLACE

(Louise McClary’s painting studio, Summer 2016)

 

In the silent studio

From the comfort of the sofa

Ambient sounds add a contingent counterpoint

To the visual contemplation

 

An invisible fly

Buzzing

Then birdsong from outside

One thing

 

After another

Then all is fused

Searching for a narrative

Interpretations of an imagined Eden emerge

 

Ominously, as questions are raised

The various hortus conclusus

Offer small vistas that perplex

And the canvases become portals

 

To lush gardens and intimate landscapes

Places of the cycle of life, death and re-birth

An immersive experience manifests strangeness and mystery

Germinating the numinous space of the imagination

 

All is energy where, incessantly,

The growth machine hums quietly and

Fixed liquid colours flow and dissolve into painterly mists

Suggesting forms, solid or ethereal

 

Echoing the Caervallack garden we walked in this morning.

The paintings reveal a spirit of place

Where seeds are sown

In the wind and the rain

 

In the light and dark hours

Forming a slow burn,

That engages with tacit, sympathetic looking

Igniting an increasingly restless gaze

 

Revealing the phenomenal

As event and material form.

 

*

After the downpour

The quietest place

Is now bursting from within

Evolving into a critical mass

 

The inner sanctum of the studio

Takes on an ever increasing sense of disquiet

Where the paintings toil against idealised notions

Of the picturesque landscape

 

Composing chaotic meanderings

Weaving disorderly diagonals

To celebrate impermanence

And new patterns in nature

 

In rhythms of visual energies

Variegated carpets of colour

Form a series of undulating nets

And structure can appear definitive

 

But with capricious qualities

A sense of change persists

Yet symmetry prevails, and

Balances are built

 

On quirkiness and uneven growth

Presenting an entangled domain

A liminal threshold

To be realised and entered by the observer

 

In patches of colour

Extracted from keen or dreamy observation

Intimate recollection or intuition

As spaces and forms are constructed

 

Guiding the eye purposefully

As the best paintings do

Forming a nucleus –

A Cubist-like configuration of pictorial space

 

The images are provocative

Allowing the indicative flatness

Of a particular kind of visualisation

To reject logical, selfish perspective

 

Wherein the viewer is never exhausted by variety

As the scenarios oblige active participation

To see through the dark glass

That clouds perception.

 

*

An alchemical process

Combines time

With visual experience,

Creating new territory

 

On the largest canvas

A crimson river, winding

Travelling across the multi-faceted surface

Via the twist and turn of a round headed brush

 

Ending in a single leaf-like form

And adjacent,

A scumbled light green

Suggests a leafy branch

 

A linear limpid overhang

Gesturally applied, reaching

Forward into space

Towards the viewer

 

Alternatively, a wall, a rock, or a tree form

Holds the two-dimensional plane and

Impedes the eye by occlusions

To send the looking on alternative routes

 

Backwards then forwards

Pushing and pulling an elasticised space

Where new thresholds open out, extending dimensions

Then to enfold, pinpoint, into small voids

 

The enclosing backgrounds

Which turn into foregrounds

In grey, gentle lime-green, or raw umber

Surfaces over-layered

 

By snail-slime white weaves

Forming entangled pathways

Mapping journeys

Towards a terrain without borders

 

Although this initial confusion requires time to digest

It is meditatively resolved

Prompting a still gaze

That gives way to accumulative scanning

 

Taking in detail, colours, shapes, textures

Then simultaneously, all variety is resolved

By the orchestration of content

To produce harmony and wholeness

 

Making relationships of contrasting colour fields

Skeins and linear strands

The mind’s eye feeds eagerly

As new configurations are constructed

 

And surprisingly

This conjured revelation

Comforts a poignant moment

Of potential loss and devastation.

 

*

On the studio sofa

A book has been discarded:

 

A page is randomly, or fatefully, opened

Skimming the lines a comment is noticed where the author has written:

“…doing a good thing in one place”

To fortuitously acknowledge the purpose of McClary’s labour

 

Where suspended and reconsidered decisions

Loosen into gestural outcomes

Offering a lingering sense of things falling

Apart, fractured

 

And where final images may not consciously conspire

To state anything profound

A metaphor of The Fall is coaxed from the imagery

Pricking the conscience, so subtly

 

A cryptic pathology bears itself

Of protest in the face of

Induced pandemonium

Divined in this localised subject matter

 

But the wild places are fighting back

By way of persistence

Becoming abstract, deregulated, burgeoning forms

In an enhanced cartographic language.

 

*

A warning is embodied

By skilful applications on the canvas surfaces

In a budding galaxy of small

But insistent, landscapes

 

These incomplete paintings reveal evidence

Of momentary skirmishes

Apparent dead ends

And chaotic entanglement

 

But, actively and obstinately

The paintings astound and seduce

With an indulgent palette

And chiaroscuro indulgence

 

From atmospheric islands of colour

Scumbled into deep shade pools

Leading to luminous passages of light

Making the compositions

 

Immediate and inevitable.

The imagery become fixed

Sieved through a relentless process

Realised in painterly configurations

 

That declares an ecstatic dance:

Seeing the moves, in silent rapture.

 

004 - LMc sofa

 

Note:

The book on the sofa – ‘Buddha Mind, Buddha Body’, by Thich Nhat Hanh. (Parallax Press, 2007)

Author: Geoff Hands

Visual Artist / Writer

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