The simple title of Linda McCue’s exhibition The Materials seemed apt. After all, the peculiar intensity of the Canadian artist’s paintings lies in how they focus on the ‘material’ of their motifs – a quiet, precise concentration on portrayed objects. In spite of this sobriety, the arrangements also appear highly enigmatic due to how McCue decontextualizes these objects: her trompe-l’œil renderings appear isolated, painted directly onto raw canvases primed only with transparent gesso. On the one hand, this intensifies their realness – the objects seem to lie within reach on the canvas – but on the other it dramatizes the break with the closed space of painterly artifice: McCue’s still lifes both stage and unmask their own illusionism.
In recent works, McCue interprets these aspects of picture and ground, as when she contrasts a sharp painterly depiction of objects by also depicting their absence: the two small diptychs, Currier & Ives (2012) and Geneva II a & b (2012–13) both seem to be minimal still lifes. Each unprimed canvas shows a blue-and-white patterned plate positioned right of centre, paired with an identical canvas left empty except for a greyish brown circle suggesting the same rendered image, only missing. While the right canvas of each diptych seems to be the trace, or absence, of the original image, each left canvas itself contains a doubling: the plate’s decorative motif suggests a picture within a picture. In Geneva II a & b, the plate is a piece of British Royal Doulton porcelain bearing the classic Geneva pattern around the rim and featuring a variation on the standard idyllic Chinoiserie scene of tree, river and mountains. Similarly, Currier & Ives is named after an American company which between 1835 and 1907 produced lithographs of folk scenes, which later became popular as porcelain prints. Both plates, painted actual size, stand for a material transformation: kitschy painting – simulated first in lithograph, then transferred to porcelain – is now translated back into a genuine and masterfully executed painting.
The shadow-like voids in these diptychs are linked to other works, including Geneva, White Square (2011–13) in which shards of blue and white porcelain are strewn across the canvas. These shards came from the plate in Geneva I (2011), which appeared there in an unbroken state with a doubling shadow. (Other paintings like Untitled (2011) and S. Fayre (2013) continue the compositional principle of the broken whole.) The other elements in Geneva, White Square are a white square – whether this is a pictorial object or an area primed with white gesso remains unclear – and a nearly same-size piece of translucent fabric with horizontal black lines. The fabric and the square form the fore- and background, slightly offset from one another, and the slight drooping of the fabric dissolves the regular striped pattern into soft waves. McCue makes these using silk painting, leading to a further mixing of cultural values: art historical references – the stripes might allude to Bridget Riley, and target-like circles in Target (2012) and Target (Pink) and other (2013) recall works by Kenneth Noland – are also linked with the hobbyistic practice of silk screen painting. McCue’s canvases thrive on such frictions and contradictions. Beyond this, she plays in a subtly ambiguous way with object and pictorial space, pattern and quotation – merging reference and materials into compositions verging on the abstract.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell