Saira McLaren: Sargent's Daughters

By Peiffer, Prudence | Artforum International, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Saira McLaren: Sargent's Daughters


Peiffer, Prudence, Artforum International


Saira McLaren

SARGENT'S DAUGHTERS

Saira McLaren's show saved my sober January. Here were nine bibulous paintings: raw canvas sponges that had absorbed several centuries of landscape tradition and were drunk on garish color but still quick on their feet. (Birds in Spring carries the date of 2015, as if brought into the gallery still wet from the studio; all the other works were from 2014.) Looking like Gilded Age scholars' rocks, three slumped and shimmering ceramics accompanied the paintings. The overall effect was of a seasonal shift, when buds begin to break through frost and everything seems to be dripping and dazzlingly bright.

McLaren's not-quite-whole ceramics suggest the precious Asian porcelains found in fin-de-siecle paintings by John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase, but only after they have been knocked over and their pieces melted down and recast with gold and silver putty suturing the cracks. (It's difficult to imagine a more fitting exhibition for a gallery of this name.) In her smeared shoreline reflections, overgrown garden paths veering toward gestural abstraction, and fried-egg suns, the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists loom large, and there are even hints of Gustav Klimt's gloriously packed botanical compositions (and his Midas touch). But McLaren's fluorescent florescence also reminds us that graffiti artists work in the en plein air tradition too.

Her forest and lake views evoke the "brilliant watery sunshine" that Charles Burchfield wrote about in his journal and obsessively painted in the first half of the twentieth century. McLaren also absorbs Helen Frankenthaler's lessons on the power of one color bled over another on unprimed canvas, adding her own Laura Ashley-dress kitsch (she works with fabric dye). There is the feel of Joan Mitchell painting in France near Monet's garden in the late 1960s (and Mitchell's famous comment "I carry my landscapes around with me"); there is the isobaric swell of Nacy Graves's watercolors in the late '70s (currently on view at MitchellTnnes &C Nash gallery); there is Keltie Ferris making sprayed neon elegant. …

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