Conor McGrady (2006)


Conor McGrady

Chicago Tribune by Alan Artner

Uniforms, government buildings in colorless world of ominous quiet
By Alan G. Artner
Tribune art critic

July 28, 2006

Conor McGrady’s representational paintings and works on paper at the Thomas Robertello Gallery are as cold and spare as they can be—the better to convey what the artist calls a “residue of fear and disquiet.”

Their subjects are soldiers and guards in uniform, as well as buildings and housing projects designed by the military. Buildings and plazas are deserted. One gouache shows a dog straining at a leash and barking. Everywhere else is a pronounced sense of stillness and quiet.

McGrady achieves this by draining color, working only in black and white with thick gray outlines. Some of his figures are cropped at mid thigh; others are shown from head to toe. Only one has a prop, a skull that diminishes rather than enhances the work’s suggestive power. All the forms—heads, figures and buildings alike—float in empty, airless environments, suggesting only essentials that have risen in dream or memory.

The heads in four small paintings are equivalents of mug shots. Here, McGrady tips his hand by titling the group “Car Thief.” I wish he had stayed with the bland, generic titles—“New Recruit,” “Post Office,” “Hole,” “Chief,” “Leader”—he otherwise favors. Defining figures by crime is different from identifying them by profession. It plays a part in creating an atmosphere the artist is capable of through painting alone.

The sternness of subject matter is matched by McGrady’s frugality of means. Starving the eye in a style that provides no more pleasure than old commercial catalog illustrations has an expressive purpose that, more often than not, is fulfilled with gratifying severity.

At 939 W. Randolph St., 312-421-1587.

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