Between the Branches: Paintings by Claire McConaughy

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B E T W E E N T H E B R A NC H E S : PA I NT I NG S B Y C L A I R E M C C O N AU G H Y

at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art


SHERRY LEEDY CONTEMPORARY ART 2004 Baltimore Ave. Kansas City, MO 64108 816.221.2626 sherryleedy.com

Cover Image, Cloud Shadows Catalogue Design, Elise Gagliardi Essay by, Barbara O’Brian


BETWEEN THE BRANCHES PAINTINGS BY CLAIRE MCCONAUGHY June 3 - August 20, 2022 at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art


BETWEEN THE BRANCHES Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art Feeling Tone: Claire McConaughy’s Landscapes Written by: Barbara O’Brien When first experiencing the exhibition of nearly a dozen new paintings by New York-based artist Claire McConaughy at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, one might be tempted to see a representation of a place or a thing, tree or branch, cloud or horizon, pond or shoreline—in short, a landscape. But one soon understands that these oil-on-canvas works are meditations on place and memory with McConaughy’s command of color and its emotional depth as the momentum behind them. It is in the ineffable that their power resides: the light of the sun that has been diffused by a cover of clouds; the time between seasons when the lush and the barren meet. The moment just before a reflection shifts, the color of the water changes, the sun sets in a blaze of competing shades of red, yellow, pink, and orange against the sky of deepening blue, green, and black. Deeply saturated blues and greens meld one into another, suggesting a sense of a time between spring and summer, then and now. Charcoal blacks and pine greens create deep shadows that blur the distinction between what is seen and what is felt, what is imagined and what is known. Brilliant, theatrical slashes of vivid cyclamen pink, tangerine orange, and ripened plum insinuate both a setting sun and the speed of an approaching future. McConaughy shares a philosophical and formal affinity to French painter Odilon Redon (1840– 1916), a brilliant colorist and important member of the Symbolist movement, first influential in the late nineteenth century across Europe. McConaughy takes inspiration from the natural world into the studio to create paintings that exist between landscape and dreamscape, recollection and imagination. French art historian and curator Jean-David Jumeau-Lafond explains the Symbolist relationship to the landscape in this way:

Rejecting both the Realist style of the Academicians and the freer touch of the Impressionists, the Symbolists declared that they would not attempt to reproduce the reality of the visible world. Instead of observing external appearance, they would practise interior vision; instead of copying they would create. Symbols, plastic or iconographic, would return the imagination to its primal source, the idea in the mind of the artist.1


Paintings by CLAIRE MCGONAUGHY McConaughy uses her own photographs, watercolors, and sketches as source material for the paintings she creates in her Brooklyn studio. She makes these studies on foot in locations that matter to her; places to which she assigns a personal meaning that is not objectively part of the resulting painting; her home in southwest Pennsylvania, to which she often returns; and her Brooklyn neighborhood.

I gather resources in a lot of places. I take photos of trees in my local parks, even sidewalk trees. Sometimes I sketch, sometimes I do watercolors and bring those back to the studio. The photographs are in my studio—I tape them up on the wall or scatter them on my couch. Especially for the trees, I tape them on the wall. I paint the trees more specifically than the land or water masses.2

In describing the subject of a painting by McConaughy it seems not quite right to use a noun—sky or lake or shore or horizon—as the subject of the painting, although we might upon thoughtful looking see any and all of those things. What is most clearly seen and experienced are the observations of the painter; the memory of this experience; the photographs taken at the time, brought back into the studio and translated using the language of the painted gesture—the sweep of an arm and the reach of a torso on surface of the canvas. How are we to understand the stance of the original observer, the artist? Was she standing with her feet solidly on the ground, on the earth that is here not visible? Is she looking straight at the branches that may have been softly waving in the breeze and here, by virtue of a photograph, are held in a suspended motion? It is as if we are holding our breath, freeze-frame, time stopped. The push and pull of paint across the canvas brings us back to the action of the studio. McConaughy assigns the terminology “sense feeling” or “feeling tone” to the landscape paintings like this one: “It is a landscape, but I hope there is metaphor, sense feeling, and other relationships in the work. Sometimes the feeling tone is electric and energized, and sometimes it is incredibly quiet.”3 The dynamic between the specificity of place—the visual source materials—and the discipline of the studio is central to the power of McConaughy’s paintings. This inherent tension is played out in the relationship between drawing and painting, the drawn line and the painted gesture, that is a central component of McConaughy’s artistic vocabulary: the never-too-imposing branch; the tender leaves that


never quite obscure the branch upon which they appear; the twig that seems to do what we know all living things do—lean toward the light. We are never quite allowed to look “at” the ostensible subject: tree, sky, shore, lake, clouds. The viewer must decipher the space between, amongst, amid, and toward. This unsettled nature of looking offers no quiet resting place for the gaze or the psyche of the viewer. The paintings, and by extension the viewer, are never quite on solid ground. We are in a space of intellectual and aesthetic engagement, the seeing and the being. The experience of viewing a painting by McConaughy moves back and forth between a belief in the real—the ostensible subject matter—and the awareness that this is a painting, not nature at all, but a remnant of time spent in the world and brought back to the activity of the studio: the activity of drawing and painting.

It came to me intuitively to combine the two methodologies. … It wasn’t an intentional idea to combine them. When I was describing objects like trees, they came out of my brush in more linear stokes than other areas of the painting, and the color was more singular. … Sometimes the “drawing” of the trees allows for parts of the painting to be seen through the object which creates an interesting relationship.4

It is the existential stance of the artist (and by extension of the viewer), the sense of personal power and choice that connects these paintings to the phenomenology of the experience, the standing alone, looking at or toward or through a vista. It has long been my belief that what the gaze falls upon is no accident; a lifetime of walking and looking, and looking at art, has affirmed this conviction. The experience of observing a painting, as a thing, has become synonymous with, developed an equanimity with, my own process of looking at and understanding a tree, a pond, a child eating a meal with her mother, an abandoned storefront. It is the experience, not simply the thing itself—tree trunk or branches, lake shore or depths, cloud filled sky or setting sun—that resonates. I note these “things” without adjectives, without descriptors, without qualification, for it is not the thing itself that McConaughy sees, interprets, and presents. It is the experience, the existential stance, the description that motivates the walking, the taking of photographs, the watercolors and sketches on site, the gathering of images and memories in the studio, and finally the


painting. Loosely drawn branches, the line breaking here and there, are in a pas de deux both tender and exhaustive, accentuating and calling out its own name, thickly painted with swirling, swooping passages, broad strokes laid one atop the other and sometimes atop another painting altogether. The memory of the experience—place, stance, time of day, combined with the natural phenomena of the shifting light on the surface of the water and even the temperature of the air suggested by the quality of light—is described in the paintings without being reproduced, replicated, or illustrated. McConaughy’s paintings offer the opportunity to stand where she stood, see what she saw, and to understand that the translation of her experience—into paintings of great formal command and emotional depth—becomes our own. * This essay has been abridged and approved for use by the author Barbara O’Brien. The original essay, “Feeling Tone: Claire McConaughy’s Landscapes”, was published on the occasion of the exhibition Not So Far Away at the Painting Center, NYC, 2019. 1. Jean-David Jumeau-Lafond, “Landscapes of the Soul and Painted Landscapes,” in Mystical Landscapes: From Vincent Van Gogh to Emily Carr, ed. Katharine Lochnan with Roald Nasgaard, Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario and New York: DelMonico Books/Prestel, 2016), 113. 2. Claire McConaughy, telephone conversation with the author, August 16, 2019. 3. Ibid. 4. McConaughy, email to the author, August 14, 2019. 5. Walt Whitman, “Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances” (1860), Leaves of Grass, Sculley Bradley and Harold W. Blodgett, eds., (New York: Norton Critical Edition, 1973). Barbara O’Brien, an independent curator and critic based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was Executive Director of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri from 2012 to 2017, after serving as chief curator and director of exhibitions since 2009. O’Brien is an elected member of AICAUSA, International Association of Art Critics. Her three decades of curatorial practice and criticism have focused on the art and artists of our time


Sky in the Water 2021 Oil on canvas 60” x 50”



Tree in the Sky 2021 Oil on canvas 48” x 36”



Cloud Blossoms 2021 Oil on canvas 48” x 36”



Purple Drops 2022 Oil on canvas 48” x 36”



Cloud Shadows 2022 Oil on canvas 48” x 36”



Untitled (Cardinal) 2022 Oil on canvas 24” x 30”



Untitled (Apples) 2022 Oil on canvas 30” x 24”



Untitled (Branches) 2022 Oil on canvas 30” x 24”



Untitled (Branches 2) 2022 Oil on canvas 30” x 24”



Bird Call

2022 Oil on canvas 48” x 36”



CLAIRE MCCONAUGHY RESUME 2022 SELECTED SOLO and 2 PERSON EXHIBITIONS 2022 Between the Branches: Paintings by Claire McConaughy, Solo Exhibition Sherry Leedy Gallery, Kansas City, MO 2021 Nearby, Solo Exhibition, 490 Atlantic Gallery, Brooklyn, NY 2020 Velvet Woods, Nuture Nature Center, Easton, PA 2019 Not So Far Away Paintings by Claire McConaughy, The Painting Center, New York, NY 2018 Woods, Yashar Gallery, Brooklyn, NY 2017 Still Air, 2-person exhibition, The Painting Center, New York, NY 2016 Visual Fictions, Ciarco Learning Center, Hackensack, NJ Summer Paintings, Yashar Gallery, Brooklyn, NY 2014 Claire McConaughy: Recent Paintings, The Painting Center Project Room, New York, NY 2002 Memory Floods; Curator, Robert Curcio, Find Outlet, New York, NY 1999 Carol Schlosberg Gallery at Montserrat College Art Gallery, Beverly, MA 1997 The Lobby Gallery of the Deutsche Bank; New York, NY SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS 2022 Fragile Rainbow: Traversing Habitats, Curator Sue Spaid, ecoartspace, Williamsburg Art and Historical Center BOCAGE, Red Fox Gallery, Pound Ridge, NY Among Friends 3, Equity Gallery, New York, NY Volta Art Fair, collaboration with Sentient Furniture, New York, NY Like a Slight Hiccup..., La Grange Gallery, Cernay-Lès-Reims, France Acid Garden, Curators Judy Mannarino and Peter Hristoff, Charles Moffett Gallery, New York, NY Zoom Out, Gallery Bergen, Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ 2021 Select 6: Garvey/Simon NY, Curator Liz Garvey, Artsy A Daze of Roses, Mizuma & Kips Gallery, New York, NY The Iridescent Era: Sue Wrbican featuring Matt Wrbican and Claire McConaughy, VisArts, Rockville, MD The Iridescent Yonder: Sue Wrbican featuring Matt Wrbican and Claire McConaughy, Riverviews Artspace, Craddock-Terry Gallery, Lynchburg, VA Dreams and Their Edges, Curated by John Seed, I Like Your work Podcast 2020 Eleven Women of Spirit, Zürcher Gallery, New York, NY Ensemble: Together Again, The Painting Center, New York, NY online 2019 Profound Objects, Gallery Bergen, Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ The Mail Art Biennial, Ground Floor Gallery, Brooklyn, NY 2018 Mutual Aid, Kent State University, Curators: Katharine Dufault, Jack McWhorter, Patricia Spergel, N.Canton, OH Luxurious Growth, Lichtundfire Gallery, Curators Robert Curcio and Priska Juska, New York, NY The Greatest Show on Earth, Sideshow Gallery, Brooklyn, NY New Year New Works, The Film-Makers’ Cooperative, New York, NY


2017 Next 2 Nothing Gallery, Filmmaker’s Coop Paddle 8 Art Auction Exhibition, New York, NY Summer in the City: The Brooklyn Show, Paula Estey Gallery, Newburyport, MA The Innocence of Trees, Curator, Anne Trauben, The Drawing Rooms, Jersey City, NJ 2016 The Art Project at The Oakman, Jersey City, NJ Lorimoto Gallery, Brooklyn, NY The Big Small Show, The Drawing Rooms, Jersey City, NJ Thru The Rabbit Hole 2, Sideshow Gallery, Brooklyn, NY 2015 The Big Small Show, The Drawing Rooms, Jersey City, NJ Variations in Paint, The Painting Center, New York, NY Goldfinch Variations, Peters Projects, Santa Fe, NM Viewpoints 2015, Studio Montclair and Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, Newark, NJ 2014 Spinning Fiction, 17 Frost Theater for the Arts, Brooklyn, NY 2013 Persona, Therese A. Maloney Art Gallery, College of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ 2012 Reductive, Jeffrey Leder Gallery, Curator, Dina Muenzfeld, Long Island City, Queens, NY 2011 Threads of Continuity, Gallery Bergen, Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ Against the Tide, online exhibition curated by Sharon Butler for TwoCoatsofPaint.com Ucross Foundation: 27 Years of Visual Arts Residencies, Nicolaysen Museum, Casper, WY 2010 Portraits, Storefront Gallery, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY 2009 Fall Survey, Allen Projects, New York, NY 2003 Sequel, Domestic Setting, Los Angeles, CA, Curator Bill Radawec 2002 The Drawing Center, 25th Anniversary Benefit Selections Exhibition, New York, NY Schroeder Romero Gallery, Brooklyn, NY one, Superior (an exhibition space), Curator, Bill Radawec, Cleveland, OH Conversation: Claire McConaughy and Stefanie Nagorka, Art Resources Transfer, New York, NY 2000 Abstract Paintings on Paper; Jay Grimm Gallery, New York, NY Floating World; Site Simpatico, New York, NY Twice Born: Beauty; Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, Curator, Shelley Bancroft, Boston, MA 1999 Dumb Bunnies and Dish Cloths, Brickbottom Gallery,Curator Barbara OBrien, Boston, MA Size Matters, Gale Gates et al, Curator, Mike Weiss, Brooklyn, NY Harum-Scarum; Marymount Manhattan College Gallery, New York, NY 1998 Memory, TZ Art & Company; Curator, Tom Zollner, New York, NY 1997 TZ Art & Company; Curator, Tom Zollner, New York, NY 1996 No England/No Amsterdam; R.A.W. Real Art Ways; Curator J. Anderson, Mike & Doug Starn; Hartford, CT 1995 Unpainted Painting; The Lobby Gallery of the Deutsche Bank; New York, NY Untitled Painting; Art Initiatives; Curator, David Clarkson; New York, NY 1989 The Drawing Center; Selections 45; New York, NY


GRANTS / FELLOWSHIPS / RESIDENCIES 2022 MacDowell Fellowship, Peterborough, NH 2022 Vermont Studio Center Residency, Johnson, VT 2002 Santa Fe Art Institute Artist’s Relief Residency, Santa Fe, NM 1997 UCROSS Foundation Residency, Clearmont, Wyoming 1999 Independent Project Support Grant, Artists’ Space, New York, NY 1994 Mid-Atlantic/NEA Regional Visual Arts Fellowship finalist works on paper EDUCATION MFA Painting Columbia University School of Fine Art BFA Painting Carnegie-Mellon University TEACHING 2007-present Professor, Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ 2007-2012 Instructor, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY 1998-2007 Adjunct Professor, Marymount Manhattan College, New York, NY 1996-1999 Adjunct Professor, Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ October 1999 Teaching Residency, Montserrat College of Art, Beverly, MA VISITING ARTIST LECTURES / CRITIQUES 2019 Snug Harbor Cultural Center, The Art Lab, Staten Island, New York, NY 2003 George Washington University, Washington, DC 2002 Kent State University, Kent, OH 1992 Salisbury State College, Salisbury, MD


EXHIBITIONS CURATED 2017 VIBRANT, Gallery Bergen, Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ 2014 Spinning Fiction, 17 Frost Theater of the Arts, Brooklyn, NY 2011 Threads of Continuity, Gallery Bergen, Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ 2002 Unraveling, Superior, an exhibition space; Cleveland, OH 1995 co-curator, Unpainted Painting; The Lobby Gallery of the Deutsche Bank; New York, NY

SELECT PUBLIC COLLECTIONS City of Hope Project, Santa Ana, CA Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Bergen County, NJ JPMorgan, New York, NY Sony Music, Los Angeles, CA


SHERRY LEEDY CONTEMPORARY ART 2004 Baltimore Ave. Kansas City, MO 64108 816.221.2626 |sherryleedy.com


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