Louise McClary 'Nature of Silence'

3 Apr 2010 – 25 Apr 2010


St Ives, United Kingdom


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Drawing In Let me show you,' we say. And we draw it, whatever it is we are trying to explain but which words won't fit round or make clear. ‘See.' Here is the crossroads. Here is the church, and the signpost that points the wrong way … Admittedly, drawings like this are not usually very sophisticated, but at least they stop us getting lost. Perhaps all drawings have something of the map, projecting on to a flat plane the salient features of an emotion, thought or sight into which there may be no other effective means of marking the path. Even conventional life-drawing has its psychogeographical side — this business of making human sense of the pliant boundaries where flesh meets atmosphere. The sensation of a path, or paths, interwoven and inextricable, is certainly very present in Louise McClary's new drawings. These large drawings are densely worked and subtly textured to the point where, when paper is translated into canvas and ink into acrylic colour, they sometimes become paintings. But in most cases the underlying movement, the one you follow as the image unfolds, is a drawing movement — in several senses, that is. The brush or pen is drawn across paper, but there is also the drawing to the surface of something that feels as though it lay beneath or within the image, as water is drawn from its own depths. The movement feels strong, but the direction is veiled. It's like walking in mist, when the few square feet of visible ground that bear you forwards become vivid with the pressure of unseen distance. Here, as it happens, the looped and branching pathways I can't help but see in these abstract images are at least partly to do with real walking routes, leading through and around the fields near McClary's home in Cornwall, and down among woods and along the fringes of a narrow, twisting creek of the River Helford. Sometimes she draws in this landscape, but just as often she watches while the landscape draws itself. The tough curves in oak boughs mirror the bends in the creek; the water forges the clouds in its winter tincture of steel and leaf-mould. Birds scatter, and the skittish bulge of a flock against the sky echoes the bristly, undulating horizon line etched by leafless beeches. In the drawing titled Liquid Dark, thin layers of shellac and tissue-paper collage have a breathing, earthy translucency. I think of how the floor of these woods must look in a November dusk, under the dewfall's swiftly darkening varnish. In the painting Luminary Dusk the night's drawing-in feels less invasive, as though balanced or softened by meditative process. The landscape to which these works relate is a landscape you could visit. You could walk the same way, and perhaps notice the same things. But the paths do not stop here, by the water's edge or up in the open field. They twine and pulse with a kind of arterial, visceral plasticity, turning in on themselves like thoughts that refuse to be grasped. It's often the case that a particular walk, especially a circular walk, becomes associated for us with a particular thought-atmosphere. For Louise McClary, these last two years, this landscape has been a place to work through grief following her father's death in 2008 — a place where bereavement's erratic unwinding can find some form of safety and renewal. Standing in a gallery, looking on, you aren't necessarily to know this. But I would say that it's there all the same, in the work. The white, and occasionally midnight-dark, penumbras that ring the heart of these pictures speak of a surrounding, unmapped silence — a silence whose inner boundaries protect as much as its edgelessness feels daunting, like the mist-walker's landscape. What's happening at the centre, on the other hand — all these reminders of life, of body and mind responding with wonder and relief to the pull of a place — draws you in. Some of the marks resemble writing, a lovely meandering, calligraphic script in walnut-brown ink. These marks are made with reed pens, which are actually shaped from bamboo sticks and not — as I used to imagine — from thin, whispering reeds cut from a riverbank, as in Blake's line about making ‘a rural pen' to write his verse. But no matter. I like the idea of the landscape being written with a fragment of itself. It seems true to the spirit of these drawings and paintings. How you read the writing, or follow the path, is up to you. Michael Bird

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