The New York Times, April 4, 2014
Auxiliary Projects is pleased to present a series of ink on paper self-portraits by Rhode Island-based painter Sue McNally from March 21st through April 27th, 2014. There will be an opening reception on Friday, March 21st, from 7-9pm. The gallery is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1-6pm and by appointment.
Sue McNally is best known for inventive, large-scale landscape paintings for which she has traveled all over the country in search of iconic views. In “Middle Ass Bad Age” she presents eight years of studying something closer to home: her own face. As a genre, the self-portrait contains both narcissism and introspection, both warm self-indulgence and cold self-appraisal. McNally has been drawing herself since she was a teenager and describes her relentless self-depiction as part of the process of solving the problem of who she is. Perhaps these drawings are not entirely unlike the ubiquitous photographs people take of themselves and post to social media* and, though McNally’s process is analog rather than digital, at times she makes a picture almost as quickly as a cameraphone. Over the years this habit of drawing her face–this same, constant, available subject– has developed into watching herself age and documenting the results in what appear to be the most unflattering ways possible. McNally’s deadpan demeanor and unsparing titles (“Runny Nose”? really?) brings a spirit of unseriousness and even glee to these works though the face in the portrait almost never smiles.
Like the “S” word, these portraits record McNally’s appearance, comportment and lifestyle through the years; her titles are snap decisions meant as memory aids as much as identifiers. In most of the dozens of works McNally depicts only her face, shoulders and hands. In several, she shows herself drinking from a mug; in “Modelo,” her face appears to pop out of a beer can. Running the gamut of self-appraisal there is “Handsome Woman” and “Very Intellectual” and “I wish I was Pretty,” and “Sad Old Man” and “That Character Actor That Plays a Cop a Lot” and “Ugh.”
As much as these works are about their subject they are also about the liberating and impulsive act of drawing itself. As a counterpoint to the large, labor-intensive paintings on which McNally often works for weeks or months, her drawn self-portraits are loose, quick, responsive, unplanned and uncontrolled. McNally focuses on the process of the drawing as it unfolds each time. The medium of ink drawing–an additive process of handmade lines, quickly set down and irreversible–matches the contingency and specificity of daily life.
*We know there’s a word for that, we simply refuse to use it.