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Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum

“Diabolical Beauty­”
 

 
University of California, Santa Barbara

McLane’s large scale paintings and intimate drawings exploit a similar ambivalence, seducing the viewer with an outward pictorial sophistication at first glance the delicacy of McLane’s painted surfaces and pencil work suggest the fluid tracery of silver-point-only to disclose, on closer inspection, s dubtly disturbing, twisted subject matter that hints at arrested development. In the large painting, Meth Lab #1 (2001), for example, a striped marquee immediately evokes a traveling circus or carnival, but the stark flat landscape and strange, overgrown and almost mutated topiary hint at something more ominous. Just as we begin to wonder if the tent may have been the site of an auction or sale – a farm bankruptcy perhaps? – the spectator notices the faint outline of a man in a protective “hazmat” suit. The work tuitle provides the tip off the abandoned tent may have been the recent site of of a crystal meth laboratory, and the entire area has been quarantined. McLanes’s drawings are no less macabre. Thus the apparent domestic bliss of a suburban tract home, with its neatly trimmed hedge and gardener’s go-cart, is savagely undercut when we spot the dangling legs of a hanged man through the living room window. Similarly, the seeming innocuosness of a car parked in a cornfield generates darker psychological undercurrents as soon as we spot the woman’s body lying in the grass alongside it. Has there been an accident? Was she thrown from the car? Or was she murdered? If so, where is the driver? Closer inspection reveals that the corpse is not a human body at all, but a blow-up sex doll. What exactly is the driver doing in this desolate cornfield?

Although it’s tempting to interpret McLane’s elegant explorations into the seamy underside of the ordinary as symbolism or allegory, one should more accurately describe them as variations on images that people have seen or imagined countless times, directly connected to the banalities of real life. They become moments or snapshots from a bigger story that the spectator constructs from this single metonymic instance, much like the queasy feeling you get during a plane ride when the turbulence hits and you mutter to yourself, “Oh, oh, here we go.” The paintings and drawings make this moment palpable and concrete, so that the viewer can extend it back into the past or forwards into the future, but always with the uneasy sense of being caught in-between, without the reassurance of an easy resolution.

Much of the restrained power of McLane’s images derives from the fact that they are barely duscernable against the all-encompassing glare of their white grounds. This derives perhaps from McLane’s teenage roots growing up in the Mid West, where flat, almost blinding snow-covered plains are a permanent fixture during the winter months, making specific detail and topographic perspective difficult to discern against the homogeneous terrain. The landscape thus becomes tabula rasa, a blank screen awaiting the spectators subjective climactic fantasy. As McLane explains, “The paintings could be macabre or heavy handed, but that’s not how I view things. Awful things don’t always look awful – often they have a strange elegance. I think a lot of our experience is about fading in and out of the beautiful, the comical, the horrible, the extraordinary, the mundane. I want the paitings to offer an experience to which thre is no more that one response, so the blank passages can be read as both light, open spaces, or as bleak, empty passages-voids”