“Out of School” might well have been the title of this nuanced two-person show. Alicia McCarthy’s work either sports or comes burdened, depending on one’s point of view, with the now-assimilated Mission School backpack. Recent MFA graduate Jenny Sharaf’s paintings drip and leak like melting popsicles purchased from a boardwalk sugar shack. Although of different generations, McCarthy and Sharaf are friends and professional colleagues. They share some of the same strategies in making their work: light-as-a-feather grids or interventions of sprayed craft paint, flat-footed applications of industrial paint, and focused engagement with the ever-elastic language of painting. But the intention of their individual practices is tellingly and possibly inevitably different.
The charm and seduction of McCarthy’s work is inescapable. Hand rubbed graphite caressing wood planks like skin, the cluster of flathead nails irregularly tacked yet studiously making words, and judiciously scavenged materials elevated to gallery status — reveals her love of physical material and her sensitively calibrated eye for tangible richness. McCarthy is a picker. Looking up, looking down, she shops pavementsand construction yards for what have become the ingredients of her work. Her democratic eye takes all matter at face value, pre-judging nothing. These paintings recognize the spiritually inclusive ideal that one thing is equal to another. This unfiltered openness is exhilarating and gives her work an undeniable presence. One wants to lovingly fondle the work, as one would an old book.
considered transgressive and shockingly dismissive of established art world conventions has now folded itself into the art-historical narrative. Not that important work should always storm the barricades. But it should question itself. McCarthy’s unrepentant taste for the unskilled and low-born, the expected grids, the small arrangements of nailed words, and oddments of wood poetically arranged in gallery corners now risk becoming the reductive, precious and forgone conclusions of style.