Chicago

Ian McKeever

Stephen Solovy Fine Art

Ian McKeever’s recent paintings are abstract in the same way spider webs are: though nonfigurative and nonreferential, they reflect patterns drawn from nature. Certain structures and processes become mesmerizing as McKeever spins his various webs and trellises in paint, as sequential applications of viscous materials cascade over his canvases. His method of doing so, its rhythms and surprising subtleties, is compelling. These paintings are compendia of differing, and sometimes opposite, pictorial tendencies, which, rather than being reconciled, are brought to a point where they begin to reveal certain aspects of the poetics of their essence.

This all happens within the framework of the series, which, for McKeever, becomes a means of foregrounding the interdependency of the works. Drawn from his “Door” and “Hour” series, both 1992–93, the paintings exhibited here play off one another. It is no surprise that while Hour-Painting No. 7, 1992–93, is predominantly black, with just bits of white paint spackled lightly across its surface, Hour-Painting No. 2, 1992–93, is rendered almost totally white, its pristine and rather bleak surface marred only by what appears to be a lattice of black and gray lines. The former painting has a smooth and imperturbable surface, as if a dark veil had been drawn between states of being, while the latter is busy, strident, and active, formed by striations of lines that move toward and away from each other. The differences between these paintings and the others in their series suggest states of coexistence that allow the artist to explore various permutations. McKeever also eschews color, working strictly within tones of white and black. His paintings can become either/or propositions, leaning toward the darkness or the light, or the many muddled zones in between. McKeever’s technique drives this part of his esthetic, and his application of paint is at once thoughtful and intuitive. This esthetic is one of the accretion of the smudge and the stipple, the busy passage with repetitive gestures next to broad areas of unprimed canvas, a burst of up-tempo liquid action next to a surge of emptiness, a stroke sharing space with a stain.

Like drying cultures in the bottom of a petri dish, many of his paintings have vague organic qualities, as if they had organized themselves in patterns reflecting the principles of nature and life. Energy in them builds up and is then released—areas of turbulence rounded off with quiet passages. This sense of both motion and stasis derives its authority from McKeever’s long practice and his sensitivity to the development of each canvas. They seem inevitable, worked upon until they have reached their tensive moment of equilibrium. His intervention, while obviously fundamental, begins to appear to be driven by the requirements of the paintings themselves, as if it becomes his role to release their potential.

James Yood