Los Angeles

Kelly McLane

Angles Gallery

The enigmatic scenes in Kelly McLane’s new paint-and-graphite works seem to be forever emerging or disappearing, fading in or out. Like bleached visual parables, recollections, or revelations, the paintings nudge you into a conflicted position, tempted to slip into mellowness but anxious not to miss important clues. In the larger works the atmosphere is subtly broken into rectilinear fragments, as if the image were literally unfolding or falling away in sections before your eyes.

The centerpiece of the show was a massive triptych that pits broad expanses of whitewashed landscape and overcast painterly sky against precisely delineated, apparition-like elements laid in with fine brushwork and delicate pencil lines. In composition and attitude, The Nature of Gravity, 2002, echoes and updates Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, in which farmers tend their fields and flocks, ships pass by, and civilization maintains its course in a panorama of earth, sea, and sky, while in the lower right-hand corner the tiny twisted legs of Icarus stick out of the ocean at the moment of his fatal splashdown. In McLane’s painting, the panels—which draw on the tradition in painting of portraying discontinuous events on a single plane and read like still images plucked from a single pan shot in a film—are linked by a faint highway running parallel to a low, flat horizon line that cuts each image into one-third land and two-thirds sky. No figures can be seen, but human presence is evident: A distant airplane in the first panel appears over a golf course planted with deciduous trees; in the second panel the landscape has become an evergreen wood with a campground behind which the nose cone of an airplane is visible; the third shows a desolate section of forest marked by the wrecked fuselage of a jet foregrounded at the bottom right.

Elsewhere in these works are sheep following and breaking from the flock; a bear surveying crop circles in an empty field; blimps struggling to stay aloft; a goose pierced by an arrow yet still able to fly south in formation. It would be easy to position McLane’s work in relation to a canned opposition of nature versus culture—the old irony of humanity ruining that from which it comes. But her paintings are much more complex than that; to try to tie up the loose ends, of which there are many more than those mentioned here, would be to deny the nuance with which they are so elegantly frayed and the wide range of ways they beg to be woven together. While there are more than a few admonitions here, there are also a lot of good nagging questions, doses of goofiness, hints of neurosis and superstition, and even the occasional ray of hope. All of these play out in images so pale and seemingly ephemeral as to feel like pictures we’re trying perpetually to drag into cognition and hold onto or like points of view that focus in fleeting moments of clarity among the fog banks in our heads.

Christopher Miles