Night and Day in America
October 16th -31st 2008
Molesworth Gallery, Dublin
These paintings reflect Maeve McCarthy’s residence in the United States since August 2007. She is no stranger to America - her first two exhibitions were in Colorado and Utah in the mid 90’s. On this recent visit, she travelled through the mid-west to the west and finally to Idaho.
The resulting work diverges from the nostalgia of American regionalism. She was lured previously by the deserts of Utah and Arizona but in this body of work there are no ‘familiar’ landscapes of cacti, bluffs, ravines, or huge vistas. One of the central paintings reflects the cobalt sky and a lone tree, very American indeed.
Significantly, At Bonneville Point also reflects the 40 degree plus summer desert where, in 1832, Captain Bonneville, a frontier trapper and explorer, found a nearby oasis along the Oregon Trail, home to the Shoshone and Bannock tribes. Below this Point, the city of Boise evolved over a century, set in a fertile plain of trees below mountain foothills.
Still visible wagon wheel-ruts mark this legendary highpoint on the hazardous trek along the Oregon Trail where intrepid pioneers risked their lives for a chance at a better life in the west. Again, a deeply American metaphor. McCarthy has picked out the scrub, sagebrush and resilient samples of trees, defiant to time and a harsh mountain desert climate.
Her homesteads hint of the frontier, in this case, the sequestered dwellings of North end Boise (oldest part of city). This is her recognition of urban America, in contrast to the southside Dublin seascape. McCarthy’s human habitations are always conflicted. A promise of vulnerable sanctuary sits hard against the night; easeful repose battling with troubled sleep. While we see the stars and stripes proudly arrayed in two paintings, in the night scenes there are no stars, lights fail to illuminate vast shadows, blinds are shut or drawn low. Big scenery is not attempted, nor is there any typical American realism or photorealism.
You may not find a message - political, cultural or religious - from this artist. McCarthy traversed Bible belts, liberal strongholds, ecological enclaves and the hyper-capitalist malls of America, but centered her work elsewhere. There may be a subtext about our human journey, akin to Bonneville. The potential for disaster, survival, or destruction, amidst the reality of the desert. In McCarthy’s night there is the refuge of the dwelling and, like Bonneville’s day, the sight of an oasis after arduous months in the desert’s scrub and wastes which led him to exclaim for joy on encountering the Boise valley, ‘Les bois, les bois, voyez les bois!’.
Kevin Kiely, Fulbright Scholar in Literature 2007-2008.