‘Owen McAuley: New Work’
Owen McAuley's late-night landscapes lit by street lamps and other artificial sources are all strikingly beautiful, but some struggle to achieve a sense of mystery
Reviewed by Salvador Castillo, Fri., March 9, 2007
"Owen McAuley: New Work"
D Berman Gallery, through April 7
Owen McAuley returns to Austin and shows off some finely rendered images. Both his paintings and drawings exhibit technical expertise in a photo-realistic style. Nighttime scenes lit by street lamps and other artificial sources suggest a relationship to Edward Hopper and the "Interchanges" series of photographs by "22 to Watch" alum Mike Osborne.
Hopper's work dealt with American issues of solitude in public or crowded situations, an isolation demonstrated in urban, suburban, or rural environments. McAuley takes a similar approach by revealing uncommon vistas from ordinary landmarks across the country. Daily routines become unfamiliar when you step out of the house, walk around your neighborhood, or drive down the highway around 3 in the morning. That general period is after a lot of parties but before it's time to make the doughnuts. Nocturnal insects, the rustling of trees, and buzzing from lampposts emerge as major elements. The stillness of late-night air inherits an alien character by powerful light sources.
The light in Osborne's photos appears to come supernaturally from within the subjects. In McAuley's paintings, the light is intruding on the night and reveals surrounding objects. The light emanates from its source(s) spreading across the picture and electrifying the image. Even the darkest shadow cowers from certain obliteration. This tension lends the imagery a Ray Bradbury/Rod Serling sci-fi presence. Everything is naturally at ease but still holding a sense of mystery.
Unfortunately, too many of the drawings in the exhibition fail to achieve this. A lot of them don't present a strong enough contrast of light and dark, and they struggle to move beyond late-night landscapes. When the light softens all of the black elements, the air is quieted and the nighttime character removed. Where light is the underdog, as in Thomasville, GA, 2005, the disruption of the light and the energy of the better paintings is more apparent. Yet every piece is strikingly beautiful.