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Art Review: Marcelyn McNeil’s Delicious Abstracts at Conduit

By Peter Simek |
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In the context of the trio of artists currently on display at Conduit Gallery, Marcelyn McNeil’s rich, bulbous-geometric paintings stand out against the pencil-etched psychology of Annabel Daou’s textual landscapes and M’s draftsman disco youths.

McNeil’s work is quietly bold, assured, and pleasing. These paintings all incorporate the repetition of easy curving shapes; rich, inky blocks of black and white; and sparse, yet effective use of muted color tones (McNeil rarely uses more than three or four colors in a single painting). These are collage paintings, the artist cutting out shapes from paper and incorporating them into the process of brushing, pouring, dripping and plastering with oil paint. The brush work orchestrates the masses into coherent objects that sit confidently on the surface of the canvas. Bulbous curves and linear edges are interrupted by intentional accidents, lovely little Motherwell splatters, smudges, and drips.

Although much of the feeling in McNeil’s work is derived from the play of texture and tone, these paintings are sculptural, as concerned with visceral forms as they are with surface and accident. In A Pound of Flesh and A Bit of Fooling Around, soft trailing curves and sharp, linear angles combine with the irregularity of the painted surface to create a biomorphic twisting cluster of white, punctuated by a visage of fleshy beige, and permeated by background black and indigo-blue peeking in between the brush strokes.

Most dramatically effective when capitalizing on this near-austere interplay of surface and form, paintings like Deep South get lost in the complexity of the process, too cloudy, blustery and psychedelic. McNeil is strongest when she allows her sharply intuitive use of color to infuse the vintage-leaning canvases with a quiet sense of cool.

Images: (left) Marcelyn McNeil, Speed, 2010, oil on panel, 71×74″; (right) Marcelyn McNeil, A Pound of Flesh and a Bit of Fooling Around, 2011, oil on panel, 48×43″