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What Moves Us Deeply?

David McGee's paintings at Texas Gallery are a fresh, moody exploration of the difficulty of being human

In a world numbed by ever-louder and more aggressive spectacles, many painters feel the need to compete for attention through ostentatious displays. Perhaps the painters who use such gimmicks continue to think of painting as a medium when, in fact, painting now has value only as a disciplined practice. And as a discipline, as an act of submission, it retains the ability to aestheticize the humbling of consciousness.

McGee isn't implicitly arguing that painting's challenge to the senses is irrevocably tied to a disbelief in the active engagement of the surface on the viewer's terms. He emphasizes instead the power to make the viewer go to uncomfortable lengths in order to grasp a painting's sense. In Skin Deep, a single shoe has come to rest on a luminous red ground. The intensity of the red/yellow horizon both seduces and repels -- a terrifying beauty we can't turn away from. McGee reminds us that today darkness and light are weirdly mixed, even interchangeable. In some cases, the paintings project one's body as darkness, the opacity of matter. One knows its weight or lightness, pain or pleasure. The direct source of McGee's light is never certain but suggests a mutation, the passage through fear and death to unpredictable new life.

Overall, McGee's paintings crackle with iconic ferocity. His images open out from the movements of the brush and simultaneously resolve and dissolve themselves in a dizzying dance of configurations of shoes and spermatozoic creatures. If anything, McGee's paintings are evolving into an ever more active collaboration between stroke and form. By taking on increased speed and intensity, the drippy horizontal grounds of Killjoy, The End of a Bad Summer and Sperm Rush seemingly vibrate with the rhythms released by the union of paint and image. Such intensity, however, isn't achieved so much through a mastery of techniques as by a courageous hand. Image and paint mirror each other in layers of dark, light and reverie. Anxiousness is a seething undercurrent in the work, coming across as that sense that things arenÕt right; we are engaged subliminally even as it wells up and overpowers us. For McGee, anxiousness is an inner malaise always waiting to become an outer catastrophe. His works interpret it as both a latent threat and a disastrous reality.

But in doing so, McGee also risks laboring like Hercules, sweating like a Titan to convey the subtlest twinges of sensibility at a grandiose scale. If McGee is reluctant to push the work to another stage, his diaristic excursions that once seemed fragile and humanized could very well become mannered and self-indulgent displays of

n outmoded, derivative language. After all, the naive impulse to let go, to lose control and struggle with a painting

an easily become a methodical and formulaic crutch. But for now (and appropriately for a young artist), McGee's ideas are ahead of his ability.

Despite McGee's limited range, I can feel his presence in every inch of "The Wastelands." He not only informs me about himself and his world view, but about my own experience. Through his eyes and brush, I get glimpses of perception into what I have felt (and sometimes thought I've understood exclusively), glimpses that make me feel not alone in the wastelands. As this series of paintings capably shows us, McGee has the courage and intelligence to passionately inform his work with what he sees and feels, regardless of how absurd or simple-minded his renditions may at first appear to the conventional eye and mind. Indeed, the overriding strength of these paintings is in his ability to communicate aliveness. McGee is intensely aware of social situations, responding to people and experiences with an acutely critical, objective observation, as well as a highly intuitive sense that often borders on an understanding beyond mere physical reality. Elusive because it cannot really be striven for, this experience is the benefit of a kind of grace.

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