Mary McCarthy describes her new paintings as a metaphor for the “general conflict between order and chaos.” The same could be said for everything under and beyond the sun, but what distinguishes her work is that the conflicts she creates are thrilling and almost beautiful. In each painting there seems to be something that doesn’t quite fit, yet belongs there anyway. Like the chunk of one-by-six pine board that’s been defiantly nailed to the corner of “Beatrice (The Kiss Off),” holding together what otherwise seems to be an explosion of conflicting, overlapping polygons. Is this also a metaphor for the break-up of a relationship, as the title might suggest? The artist speaks of her work in strictly formal terms, but she seems to be presenting the active, challenging life of an ambitious young woman in the city. The heroic size of iconic American abstract painting, these pieces are about the size of a bathroom cabinet mirror, and they feel just as intimate. But the space has been attacked so vigorously, with so many sharp angles and strong colors, they still feel heroic—especially when compared with the series of quiet grid paintings that appeared in her last exhibition. And McCarthy seems committed to making every painting different, with more of a commitment to exploration than refinement. Like so much Chicago art, there seems to be a sense of inner beauty struggling to emerge from a rough, tough, modern world.
Much credit has to go to the Union League Club for its monthly displays of local artists, especially now when commercial galleries are in a period of retrenchment. McCarthy’s current gallery, Maurice Sternberg, is no longer renting gallery space. These exhibitions are open to the public, but only by appointment. (Chris Miller)
Through September 30 at the Union League Club, 65 West Jackson