New Eye On An Old Theme

DAVID CAVE Reviews Cynthia McLean’s Exhibition,
“How Great Thou Art”
The word that sprang to mind in looking at Cynthia McLean’s recent exhibition was “refreshing”. McLean’s exhibition was launched at the Horizons Art Gallery on 16th November and ran until the 27th.  In the past I have been fortunate to have only seen her work in isolation; sometimes just one or two pieces at a time.  See several together in one location was a treat.
To be frank,  the subject matter of McLean’s work is not mind-blowing.  As far as our art goes, one usually gets bored seeing shacks, landscapes, Bele dancers, beautiful women and labourers cutting sugar cane.  After all, these themes have been done before by artists such as Isaiah Boodoo and Boscoe Holder, almost to the point of ad nauseum.   Do we need another plantation worker, river washer woman, et cetera?  The answer to this question is yes- but only if it adds some new element  to our understanding and delight of the visual iconography that given an identity to this  landscape.
It is this identity that McLean reinforces.  Moreover, McLean is one of the few painters who have the elegance and capability to take everyday subject matter and add her personal touch, making it novel, beautiful and engaging.  McLean has created a colour palette that is unique.  The brilliant hues and dominant reds enable an individual to look at an unnamed painting and immediately identify it as a work of McLean.  Added to the treatment of colour is the thick, opulent texture of the paint.  In works such as Tranquil Tarouba II, the heavy layers of paint create a three-dimensional effect which adds a degree of realism that is more common in art that is ten times the size of McLean’s paintings.
McLean’s art is definitely situated in the impressionist genre.
There is a clear emphasis on mood over form and the artist manages to convey feelings of calm and tranquillity throughout the range of the art that was displayed at this exhibition.  Areas of our landscape that are associated with rest and recreation such as Mayaro, Blanchisseuse and Manzanilla dominate this collection.
However, McLean’s treatment of human figures is equally impressive.  Again, the allure of works such as Sugarcane Legacy and Labour of Love (Parts 1 & 2) is not so much in the details, but in the composition of the paintings and the placement of the human figures.
“How Great Thou Art” was a rare gem of an artistic display.  It did not have the fanfare and hype that is usually associated with exhibitions of mature artists.
The discreet nature of this showing combined with the relatively small sizes of the paintings contradict the mastery of painting and colour manipulation contained in each piece.  McLean succeeds solely through the merit of her art.
There is no attempt to overwhelm or bamboozle the viewer.   Fortunately so, because the art itself is good enough to arrest the viewer’s attention and hold it.

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