Los Angeles

Dan McCleary

Krygier/Landau Contemporary Art

Dan McCleary’s recent portrait paintings and pastel drawings share an affinity with works by the old masters. His small oil paintings of Michael Abatemarco, for example, are strongly reminiscent of Renaissance portraiture. McCleary depicts his subject only from the shoulders up, yet reveals much about the person’s character. Abatemarco looks like a boy in late adolescence, with an unlined, almost innocent face that nevertheless is marked by a look of defiance verging on belligerence. In one of the works in this series, the youth’s face is portrayed almost straight on, with just a slight turn to the right. His lips are pursed, his eyes stare as if at a distant point, his dark hair contrasts with the peach tones of his flesh. He looks fresh, handsome, not yet fully matured, but possessing a precocious sense of self. A shoulder-and-head drawing of Vincent McCleary, the artist’s brother, is done in profile and reveals a clarity of line that seems to derive from Hans Holbein. The face, with its sharp blue eyes, protruding chin, and short, well-rounded nose, is depicted without idealization, yet with an empathy for the subject’s obvious self-containment. McCleary captures the subject’s carriage and facial expression, communicating an extraordinarily precise feeling for the man.

Not all of the works in this show are as strong as these. In his portraits, McCleary’s rendering is self-assured; in some of his more ambitious and complicated compositions, it is far less so. Woman Putting on Her Stockings, 1988, for example, recalls the intimate activities of, say, Degas’ bathers, where the model is often portrayed in a somewhat awkward and unflattering pose. But McCleary never achieves the precise balance between awkwardness and correctness. Although he succeeds in capturing the casual and almost incidental quality of the moment he depicts, his picture remains sketchy and clumsy.

Even less fully realized are a series of scenes in a fast-food restaurant. The anonymous cast of characters in these images doesn’t bring out the same conviction in McCleary; the figures are stocky and unfinished, and the construction of the compositions is uninteresting. Overall, this show would have been far more successful had it been substantially pared down.

Susan Freudenheim