Review by Shana Dumont Garr on New American Paintings, August 3,2016


Stephanie McMahon’s first solo exhibition in Boston, and the first painting show hosted by T+H Gallery this year, “Close to Me” reverberates with the saturated colors of summer, from the blazing neon of flower gardens viewed at midday to the cool shadowed tones of the woodlands after rainfall. This contrast, seen throughout the galleries, can be summed up with Earthwork, a dynamic abstraction built with sheer layers of oil paint on panel. Soft-edged shapes work in tandem with more static, geometric forms, and engagingly lush brushstrokes hover in changeable depths of field. – Shana Dumont Garr, Boston Contributor

A unifying impulse in this exhibition is the robust presence of the brush. Arcing through Earthwork are forms that evoke landscape-- made with diluted, earthy tones, they simultaneously evoke clouds and hillsides. These marks summon the qualities of slip (clay suspended in water) that is used to make ceramics, linking the painting to sculptural processes, and to the indeterminate stage before clay is fired. That slippery quality -- in both the literal and the metaphorical sense -- are central to the appeal of this body of work. They are painter’s paintings that also happen to be easy on the eyes.

Like all of the paintings in “Close to Me,” Earthwork offers immersion into the act of mark-making and the experience of pure color. The thin washes and the trails of the brush make the artist’s decisions seem fresh, as though just completed. Another consistent source of tension are how oppositions, such as light and dark, gestural and measured, provocatively vacillate with each other.

McMahon’s focus shifts from pure colorscapes in 2015 to more loose and complex arrangements in 2016. Spritz (2015) and Double Dip (2015) are flush and immediate, with robust, horizontal rhythms. Spritz pops with soaring yellow, blazing orange, and magenta, beaming bands of pigment that slip and blend into each other. It is not simply prismatic, though, as clean-edged lime and yellow forms interrupt the spectrum to create optical effects, not unlike experiencing a James Turrell installation.

In Blue Nude (2016) and Primary Matrix (2016), sharp angles still betray the human touch and coexist with more organic brushwork. These are among the paintings that offer a contemporary take on a collage sensibility, one informed by the digital era. The abrupt bracketing and continuous layering evoke the transposition of multiple open windows on computer screens.

A few works embed grids into otherwise fluid, gestural forms, which may refer to digital systems such as bar codes. The organization of forms has affinity with the ways that people interface with each other and the world around them in the 21st century. However, there is no sense of the distraction or passivity that is often associated with computer screens. Close to Me was robust, bracing, and provided apt metaphors of an era that may be characterized by scanning, simultaneity, and flux.