Kelly McLane’s dreamscapes
— By Doug Harvey
ANOTHER UNDERAPPRECIATED LOS ANGELES ARTIST is painter Kelly McLane, whose first solo show at Angles, “The Gravity of Nature,” almost lost its centerpiece due to post-9/11 squeamishness. The Nature of Gravity, a large triptych depicting a jet airliner crashed in a wooded rural area, was initially completed two weeks before September 11, and only included in the final show after lengthy deliberation by both the artist and her gallerist. It seems the only possible call, as, apart from the spookiness of coincidence, the epic painting provides a somber central note of gravitas to balance the remnants of sly whimsy that remain from McLane’s earlier work.
McLane, who has always displayed tremendous facility in terms of draftsmanship and paint handling, has developed impressively via reduction. Simultaneous to limiting her palette to a burnt-out photographic whiteness, McLane has reined in some of the more extravagant allegorical tendencies of earlier paintings (as well as the subtle gibes at other L.A. painters), resulting in spare, dreamlike pictorial scenarios articulated with impossibly detailed brush strokes and pencil marks. When narrative fragments do appear, as in Crop Circles, where an upright bear regards the titular phenomena, or Meth Lab #1, where hazmat operatives lug topiary animals away from a circus tent, they seem less a part of some thinly veiled allegory than simple testimony to the inexplicable peculiarity of everyday life.
This grounding has been brought about in large part by McLane’s adoption of conventional horizon-dominated landscapes that nevertheless declare their artificiality through the gridding off of the surface and a different painterly treatment of each area. This is most effective in the vast stretches of sky, the rectangular patches of which don’t quite match up — bringing to mind theatrical scrims and primitive, pieced-together panoramic photographs. The resulting oscillation of surface effect draws the viewer’s eye in to the delicacy and deliberation of the actual painting, and its periodic regularity beats out a trancelike rhythm that is strangely not at odds with the often disconcerting content of the imagery. Somehow this attention to illustrational and painterly detail, combined with the fragmentation of the underlying structure of pictorial convention, results in work that celebrates the willful human practice of art making even as it depicts the ungovernable and unfathomable vagaries of nature.