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It takes a certain sort of faith to unearth complication from the soil of the everyday. You might also call it sensitivity, or rather the reverse—an anxious projection peculiar to contemporary art that refuses the easy temptation of accepting an object or an image at face value. Contemporary art doesn’t trust so easily.
Nick McPhail’s paintings at Holiday are simple, unassuming things, spare in subject and presentation. Any weirdness or complication, if you’ve a thirst for drama, is conjured from the eerie emptiness of a suburban milieu—a familiar kind of weird. McPhail’s images cull their views from various locations in Texas, Florida, and California, though these origins need not have conceptual bearing on how one reads his work. At most, each painting is a postcard, to no one in particular and from a place only vaguely associative for the viewer; their dreaminess and generality is perhaps the whole of the point.
In Painted Driveway (all works 2018), two-thirds of the composition is just that: an expanse of flat gray angling towards a gridded window (or is it a garage?), the mullions of which are accented in pink. Night Lines and Stop Light picture, respectively, power lines and a single stoplight, each eponymous civil service set against a green field, recalling both the comforts and the homogeneity of a leafy, quiet, forested drive. Window on the other hand, hails from a zip code closer to downtown—in the distance sits a gruff, high-rise apartment building, textured, as is the rest of the painting, in bits of pinky light.
A fascination with the ordinary—that is, with the unremarkable rather than the rare—stands out in contemporary art for its earnestness, it’s almost strange absence of irony or sarcasm. In his essay “Seen and Not Seen,” Bruce Hainley divines deep, somewhat nefarious meaning, even “weirdness,” from the ordinary, bucolic New England landscapes of Maureen Gallace, mainly by way of context—the measuring, against contemporary painting’s ironies and elisions, of Gallace’s unexpectedly conventional, hushed approach. This is not to say that McPhail’s works are uncomplicated, or even all that ordinary—merely that their success, irrespective of contemporary art’s fickle tastes and finicky appetite, does not depend on being read as such.
Nick McPhail: Pictures runs September 30–October 14, 2018 at Holiday (2601 Pasadena Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90031).