Arts » Visual Arts

Review: No Place

New Works by Johnny McKee at the Harrison Center


Monon Over the White River by Johnny McKee
  • Monon Over the White River by Johnny McKee

The sucking in the seventies Indiana-no-place moniker no longer applies to this city, really, because no one Indy resident in their right mind can complain about a lack of things to do here. Nevertheless, Johnny McKee's title for this exhibition seems appropriate in that his shadowy, sepia-toned Indy cityscapes are as evocative of places long gone and far away as they are of the structures that inspired these works. And you get the feeling in this exhibit that mood trumps actual city geography.

Take his "Monument Circle," a dark vision of the heart of the Circle City where 3/4 of the canvas is blacked out by acrylic. The light that remains wraps gloomily around a tower that vaguely resembles the Soldiers & Sailors Monument. There are interesting things to note about this painting. First, it was composed without a photo reference and entirely from memory. Secondly, the method of composition, similar to that of other works here, involves "dirtying up" a wood board with black acrylic paint and then sanding it away — sanding away the darkness to create the light of negative space — as a sculptor would do if that sculptor were working in two dimensions.

In "Real Silk" (based on the Real Silk factory off Mass Ave), the prominent annual rings exposed in the cut of the wood panel becomes a prominent part of the composition. The other works here are composed on birch, where the visual effects achieved have much more to do with how aggressively McKee sanded away the paint on the panels.

That composition method seems to produce unpredictable effects. It pays off in spades in "Monon over the White River," where the scratch marks on the wood and the unevenness in the scoured acrylic approximate the chaos of ordinary weather. The light is twilit, casting the popular Monon Trail landmark in silhouette. You can see why art-savvy patrons have said that this particular work reminds them of Whistler's "Nocturne: Blue and Gold," that depicted the Old Battersea Bridge over the River Thames.

It's McKee's most stunning composition. He carves into the sky here, creating a maelstrom of texture and atmosphere and light.

If you go
City Gallery at Harrison Center for the Arts
through January 29


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