Critics’ Picks

Tom McGrath, Yard at Night, 2010, oil on canvas over panel, 44 x 34”.

Tom McGrath, Yard at Night, 2010, oil on canvas over panel, 44 x 34”.

New York

Tom McGrath

Sue Scott Gallery
1 Rivington Street
April 8–May 31, 2010

The palette of greens, blues, and yellows that subtends Tom McGrath’s new paintings keeps their moodiness cool. Slate and forest-hued nocturnes, threaded with tree trunks and other unidentifiable silhouettes, skirt the dour or bathetic in favor of a more ambivalent sentiment, akin to melancholy. That the artist has, in the past, repeatedly underscored the “obstructed” nature of his painted “scenic routes” sheds some (half-)light on the nature of his painterly approach: a staging of vision partially veiled or blocked. Whether in twilight or partly lit up by the glare of headlights, these scenes, too, poignantly grope after their spaces.

Rockpile (all works 2010), an ambitious and prodigious painting on canvas over panel, does not shrink from the burden of its Cézannian genealogy. Shadow and light converge on an outcropping in a delicate, rippled dance; positive and negative spaces seem to trade places in a ghostly flicker of forms still bounded by outlines, as in the eerie transubstantiation of photo negatives. If, in the exhibition’s titular painting, suspension between day and night appears more resolved, the piece proposes a different sort of ambivalence, between figuration and its roots (made literal) in abstraction: The field of tree trunks descends into a play of paint by turns watery and thick with gnarled impasto.

McGrath’s series of “Blinds” (images ostensibly glimpsed through the slats of domestic shades) are the weakest of an otherwise strong lot—not because of their visual conceit, but rather due to the dappled, botanical motif that lurks beyond, as in Yard at Night and 33137 (Blinds). These works verge on kitsch without embracing its (guilty) pleasures wholeheartedly; the painter would do better to push further the tacky spackle of fronds and foliage, or else shore them up entirely.