by Mark Van Proyen
Lisa McCutcheon’s 16 works on paper play sly tricks on the mind’s eye, prompting double-takes and re-considerations. Chief among these are disruptions of the ways that immediate graphic presence and imaginary distance inhabit the same picture space. In other words, these works are at once “here” and “there,” and for that reason, they are energetic, lively and subtly uncanny.
Half of the works measure around 30 x 22 inches and feature solitary, centrally placed forms set on or against white paper. These clustered forms contain interlaced floral elements reprised in distinct, differently scaled layers, the majority being tropical in appearance. One could be forgiven for thinking that these vegetative forms are the consequences of a prolonged Photoshop binge, but closer inspection reveals other more obscure methods coming into play. For example, in Root Series No. 1, we can ascertain collage elements applied to mylar, mixed with photo transfers on finely woven fabric, all combined to reveal what appears to be an intertwined clot of root balls resembling a disembodied heart. In Feather Series No. 4, McCutcheon adds gesturally applied water-based paint to her process, blending muted colors to echo and enliven the respirating involutions and extravolutions of her multi-generational shapes.
The edges between the white paper and collage elements are particularly interesting because they reveal so much variety and rhythmic unpredictability, looking like satellite views of the coastlines of landmasses shaped by fluctuating internal and external pressures. At differing junctures, these edges can be as sharp as a thorn or as soft as a freshly harvested tobacco leaf, mirroring and counterpointing the characteristics of the perfervid vegetation represented in the work’s source material. McCutcheon’s attention to the edges of her collages suggests that she has closely examined Clyfford Still’s work, taking inspiration from the ways that his shapes expand and contract in relation to the totalities of their pictorial organization. The consistent central placement of the clusters reinforces a presentational stasis that is at odds with the work’s livelier aspects. Maybe this is a way of creating tension between the static and non-static elements of these works, but it also creates a stabilizing effect that makes them seem unnecessarily inert, frozen in graphic space as if they were specimens anxiously awaiting categorization.
The eight larger works in the exhibition are much more dynamic. One reason is that they feature shapes akin to those mentioned above, all formulated at different sizes and dispersed across the picture surface in what a first glance appear to be random arrangements. Pictorial drama arises from how these forms evoke chains of tropical islands viewed from high altitude, presuming that we can imagine the expanses of white paper as the surface of a surrounding body of water. They offer a seamless synthesis of schematic cartography and pictorial detail. And because negative space is so adroitly activated, we can also imagine unseen geomantic energies lurking between and underneath the clusters, adding additional mystery to their shape and character.
There is something ineffable about the way McCutcheon’s larger works seem randomly generated at first glance and compositionally unified on close examination. They point to painters of Song Dynasty China, such as Ma Yuan (1160-1225), who was known as “one corner Ma,” because of his propensity to locate the pictorial incidents of his paintings in a single corner of his compositions, letting atmospheric subtleties hint of energetic worlds beyond the work’s immediate representational focus. Song Dynasty painters called this kind of activated negative space Liubai, which is something McCutcheon’s largest works exhibit to great effect. Of equal importance are the multi-generational surfaces of McCutcheon’s cluster-shapes, which seem to mimic the cut-and-paste functions of Photoshop without conceding the tactile activation that is usually sacrificed by the brittle homogeneity of digital image output. Handmade mimics of digital imaging effects? Surely, this is an idea whose time has come.
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Lisa McCutcheon: “Bloom” @ Dolby Chadwick Gallery to February 26, 2022.
About the author: Mark Van Proyen’s visual work and written commentaries emphasize the tragic consequences of blind faith in economies of narcissistic reward. Since 2003, he has been a corresponding editor for Art in America. His recent publications include: Facing Innocence: The Art of Gottfried Helnwein (2011) and Cirian Logic and the Painting of Preconstruction (2010). To learn more about Mark Van Proyen, read Alex Mak’s interview on Broke-Ass Stuart’s website.