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Wednesday February 22, 2017
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Charles McGee at Eighty-Five

 

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portraits painted in the 1950s to huge enamel paintings done this year. It seems a fitting epigraph to his work, since most of the pieces explode in violent zigzags of paint and operate on some level of abstraction--an exercise in choosing what to see.

McGee's most recognizable works are the frenzied paintings and collages he's been making since the 1980s. Although the paintings are highly abstract, with huge snakelike squiggles and a palette that alternates dizzyingly between neutral colors and electric primaries, the busy splashes often dance around human figures. The people in these paintings are abstract as well, usually just stark silhouettes with large heads and skinny limbs. Their pointy-fingered hands and sharp elbows, arranged hieroglyphically, suggest urgency, but it's hard to tell whether they're dancing or running. Their faces are generally blank, but some have wild eyes and huge, toothy grins that look far more manic than happy.

Several depict Noah's Ark, but without the usual calm brown boat and sunny panorama of zoo animals. Instead, human limbs tangle with snakes and squiggles. Black and white jumbles with splotches of brightly colored enamel float in space. In one piece, a purple-spotted giraffe is the only recognizable non-snake animal. Although a couple paintings have "celebration" in the title, they seem more ecstatic than joyful. The flood of abstraction strands any sense of security, upturning the biblical story and clouding easy explanations. Some are cut out of metal, 2-D sculptures that discard even the refuge of rectangular borders.

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