A GLIMPSE OF TRANSCENDENCE – PAINTINGS BY ANNA CONWAY
American Painter Anna Conway’s process of conceiving and fully realizing her paintings without preparatory studies is stunning and necessitates continual additions and erasures. The tracks and traces of meticulous revision are present in each work and render visible the same exacting labor that limits the artist’s production, making an exhibition of this scope all the more impressive.
The results are capable of producing in the viewer the same states of transitory, emancipatory awe experienced by many of the paintings’ subjects. These are often men, discovered during moments of unglamorous work, who have been disrupted by a glimpse of transcendence brought on by a momentary dissociative lapse or an event of improbable drama.
One of her works depicts a janitor in the dead of night, having set aside his gloves and cleaning supplies, struck by an overwhelming impulse to do push-ups on, or closely examine the surface of, a desk patrolled by the bulls, books and cigars of the financial industry’s day- shift plutocrats. In another work, a service worker sweeping a food court recoils as a collapsing inflatable advertisement descends upon him, his life threatened by the celestial marriage of pathos and bathos.
Among other autobiographical elements, manifestations of Conway’s upbringing in two NFL stadium towns—Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Foxboro, Massachusetts—appear throughout her work. Here Comes Everybody (2003) envisions a rehearsal for a halftime show in which hundreds of volunteers scurry into a choreographed depiction of a single giant superfan—a thing physically greater than themselves but, still, lesser than the humanity of any of its constituent parts.
Throughout the exhibition, stadiums and exurban landscapes offer backdrops scaled to evoke the particular awe-struck unease brought on by the empty expansiveness of spaces common to the United States, and particularly the Midwest farmlands, where Conway’s mother was raised. Conway finds “flyover country” particularly fertile ground for the exploration of interiority-seen-at-a-distance—a key component of the vitality and peculiarity of her dynamic emotional palette.
Instead of depicting men in moments of epiphany, Conway’s newest paintings position the viewer in the state of entrancement. In one work we come upon a feat of ethnographic exhibition design: a cave dwelling, the ruins of monuments, a survivor-less whale hunt, a submarine surfacing through ice in some polar dawn. Great and ignominious moments, perpetually just past. These scenes—set into vitrines in the shape of a large boat—initially present themselves as feats of diorama-making.
Anna Conway (b. 1973) first came to prominence in the 2005 group exhibition, Greater New York, at MoMA PS1, where her meticulously rendered paintings announced the arrival of a singular talent. Her stylistic development has emerged from spectacular and unpredicted encounters with natural forces beyond normal human experience, to a more anthropological and psychological exploration of the human condition. Conway’s paintings are a testament to the continued relevance and fascination of the centuries-old tradition of realist painting—an archaic practice, which seems to grow only stronger with every passing year.
She has exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe, and is the recipient of numerous accolades, including: the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2014); the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (2011 and 2005); and the William Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2008).
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