David McDonald at Carter and Citizen
Sculpture #1, first on the right: I see flooring again, and of course the rebar poles, but flooring seems important to all of the works on display. In the case of “Self Portrait (Underground Self)” the flooring lines the top of a chimney structure which grazes (just!) and also makes gaps with… What is this? Are these ghosts? These lumpy tubular plaster shapes appear in each of David McDonald’s sculptures. What is it they remind me of? Extra-terrestrial fungi? Zapp Comix era R. Crumb figures? Dunno.
The sculptures appear to be not so much fragmented as composed of fragments – made from parts of other wholes.
I dispute that these are McDonald’s first essays in self portraiture. I have thought that this artist’s sculptures resemble nothing so much as himself since 2001, when I first spent a great deal of time looking at his work. I could make useless and speculative psychological connections to modesty (of size and of materials) and to tonal restraint, but much better to consider the tenacity of his small objects and their survival in this world, and how over the years they have dominated much larger conversations than themselves. Tenacious then, and also considered: for to spend a decade working out one 11″ tall object (as I know David McDonald to have done) requires deliberate focus and awareness of a world of possibilities before one makes three or fours simple choices. Shocking really, such quiet choices in this loud world.
Exposure and enclosure happen again and again in these new sculptures. The enclosures, while elaborate, are almost foolhardy and must know they are destined to fail, to not protect nor isolate their hearts. This double revealing – of exhibition and of breaking away the shield in his sculptures – is an anti-reticence that turns McDonald’s exposure into presentation, and this act of self-conscious presentation brings us back from our brink of psychology to art: it includes the possibility of a personal reading and it expands outward to comment on the human condition.
I encourage you to visit this exhibition during this, its final week. And when you do – pay attention to the choices that David McDonald makes. There is not one surface or material or shape used but what it needs to be so, and if the artist uses paint then you should think about the history of this material and why he might want you to see it in that place. Check out “Self Portrait (Up Self)” and note the slight coloring to the top and back of the plank that represents the “up” in the title. Do you see light reflecting off the surface of a wall? Or do you see a surface that is painted a slight shade from the color of the original surface? The reds in “Self Portrait (Underground Self)” are several and one red is covered over with lovely strokes of mocha or navajo white. The chicken wire in “Self Portrait (Visible Self)” is desperate to serve its purpose, it scrambles and it takes the several forms that such fencing can take. What purpose is served? At the back is a partial enclosure of plywood crescents. A sheet of Fin-ply was painted an amazing blue, cerulean even, then cut and glued in a shaky stack. This is a thing that having seen I will not forget. It is lovely and it feels honest.
Like a conversation with a stranger in another language, I cannot comprehend the words in use here, but I can understand the expressions that pass like flickering light on my conversant’s face.
I encourage you also to look at the small painted wall objects. They are successful in their way but feel precious to me, where the sculptures feel brave. There is a conversation of material concerns back and forth between the two bodies of work, and I value seeing them together. This is the way our eye learns, the back and forth between objects and the internal dialogue we have while looking. I may see magnificence and I may sometimes find things wanting – initially these judgments are intuitive, and slowly, slowly they become informed by comparing and contrasting. Over years we learn. Having such an opportunity with one artist’s work is why solo exhibitions are so important.
David McDonald has been working seriously at his craft, making choices and taking risks for more than fifteen years. It would be a shame for you to miss this chance to study and to learn.
David McDonald: Self Portraits is open at Carter & Citizen through February 18 http://carterandcitizen.com/home