Dan McCleary Past and Present

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Dan McCleary, "The Demonstration," 2014
Oil on canvas, 63 x 56"
Courtesy of Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, California

When Dan McCleary paints portraits of people he does so in a subtle, straightforward manner that belies layers of art historical references. In a show of recent paintings and drawings at Craig Krull Gallery, on view through January 17, there is a marvelous portrait of a woman wearing a red apron standing behind a table serving a rosy beverage such as juice or punch. The transparent container and white Styrofoam cups anchor either side of the composition while she looks directly at the viewer.

Dan McCleary, "The Café," 2014
Oil on canvas, 34 x 39.5"
Courtesy of Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, California

McCleary does not fully delineates fleshy volumes so that his figures retain a rigorously flat appearance that spans centuries and recalls figures depicted in similar ways by the great early Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca, the Impressionist Edouard Manet and contemporary master Alex Katz. This particular picture cannot help but be seen as an echo of Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergere, his portrayal of a barmaid in glittering, mirrored environs, a picture notable in the late 19th century for her bold stare. Manet painted a gentleman reflected in the mirror implying an assignation. McCleary's background is emphatically neutral gray. Any back story is subdued to portray a young woman at work.

'Alex, Robert, and Sami' Dan McCleary, 2009
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of Gerald Greene and Richard Bonhama
Photograph by Andy Romanoff

McCleary makes a point of painting people and scenes of quotidian life, figures of various ethnicities in cafes, offices, classrooms involved in quiet, reflective activities. He finds dignity and serenity away from the glamour and clamor of the privileged classes. (McCleary also has involved himself personally with Art Division, an organizing that he founded in 2010 where he teaches art to underserved young adults.)

'The Blue Guide II' Dan McCleary, 1998
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the Robert E. Holmes Collection
Photograph by Andy Romanoff

McCleary's ongoing preoccupations should be clear in an overdue survey organized at USC Fisher Gallery opening January 14, Every Day Sacred. Paintings, 1993-2013. McCleary paints figures at work, at school, even a woman in the bathroom painting her nails. The long history of genre painting is reinterpreted by McCleary for the present. When we see paintings of men playing cards or women sewing in pictures of centuries past, they may appear exotic due to their dress or their hair styles. McCleary is delineating an unbroken connection between artists and their subjects over an extended period of time. Figurative painting may not be the latest innovation to emerge from a hot art school but McCleary quietly insists on its ongoing relevance. The show continues to March 7, 2015. McCleary talks about it at Fisher Gallery on February 3, 2015 at 1:00 pm.

'Woman Painting Her Nails', Dan McCleary, 2004
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of Nancy and James Fawcett
Photograph by Andy Romanoff