Art in America

Kelly McLane at Angles
 — By Michael Duncan


Kelly McLane at Angles 

Although there has been some buzz of late about young abstract painters in Los Angeles, much of the truly innovative new work has been figuratively based. Kelly McLane’s quiet, finely tuned pencil drawings of off-kilter middle-American scenes have been highlights of several recent group shows. In this solo exhibition, McLane presented a suite of handsome and ambitious paintings that seamlessly incorporate her meticulous draftsmanship in complex compositions of pale, icy colors.

McLane spent her formative years in Oklahoma and Missouri, and has closely observed the weirder contradictions of life in rural America. Largely devoid of human presence, her finely honed settings evoke a subtle, poetic strangeness that David Lynch and Gregory Crewdson might envy. McLane’s abiding theme is the disturbance of nature by odd cultural manifestations. Pumped-up narrative incidents and surreal details are countered by the chilly palette and seemingly vast expanses of land and sky. The tame-looking bear in Crop Circles (2001) contemplates mysterious, indented markings in a flat, sunburnt plain. In Moth Lab #1(2001), a desert tent-modeled on those reportedly set up in the Mojave as illegal drug factories – is loosely surrounded by topiary animals. Small ghostly figures in protective gear (presumably government drug agents) -are dimly discernible as they approach the tent. 

McLane’s atmospheric control is most evident in The Nature of Gravity (2002), a 22-foot-long triptych depicting that most loaded of contemporary catastrophes, a commercial airplane crash. A tranquil spruce forest is interrupted in the middle panel by a trail of smoke and, in the right-hand panel, by the wrecked fuselage of a plane nestled in crushed trees. The bleached light and whitish morning mist obscure and quiet the catastrophe to a deathly silence. McLane’s adroit handling of the sky, which is blocked off in subtly delineated grid sections, suggests the fragmented passage of time. With no visible carnage and only a few smashed suitcases littering the ground, the wreck seems ghostlike, as yet undiscovered by rescue workers end CNN. In McLane’s update of 18th-century notions of the sublime, the indifferent landscape engulfs alt intrusions. As she demonstrates in her paintings and forthrightly states in interviews, “Nature doesn’t care.”

-Michael Duncan