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Heather McGill’s Clowns, Not Pale, But Unsatisfied

Heather McGill’s new art show at Dwight Hackett Projects features recombinant laser-cut works on paper that erupt in clown heads out of fields of pink-and-green-and-orange plaid flames. Clowns,  yes; they petrify me. Over-painted jesters of the big tent, they have big mouths, small eyes. Slippery, witchy and garish, above all unusual, their gene pool circulates in bright masks concealing dark gyrations of cruelty. Their substance is fleeting, the insubstantialness of something, in McGill’s pattern language, rendered very, very thin, yet that can’t be peeled out of a lasting impression. Here’s the Yeats phrasing: in their painted clothes/the pale, unsatisfied ones.

All this, of course, as entrée to writing about McGill makes for heavy projection on objects whose formal characteristics are thinness and silhouette, in that her clowns are generic compared to the specific horrors of  paintings of clowns by John Wayne Gacy (by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied) – right now being exhibited in Nevada. (1. John Wayne Gacy: the Indiana Kiwanis Club clown and serial killer, who murdered boys. Or 2. John Wayne Gacy, the Indiana serial killer and Kiwanis Club clown – who still murdered boys.)

Heather McGill

Heather McGill, Untitled, 2011

Yuh huh. Not. Clowns, in other words, have a cultural spot as tricksters always about to change over into something unpredictable, possibly malevolent. And so to Heather McGill’s laser-cut works : The displaced clown, hat akimbo, is just a unit of meaning in a field full of scored identities composed of negative space. That grin or pair of nostrils makes ultimately for a pause between what you’re seeing and what is actually there. The laser weaves a wavy stripe, a triangular lantern, a cerebellum-shaped nightmare in which Bozo and Boom times 3 cavort, sorta. So it’s still, in McGill’s great work, that the graphic image packs a tremendous energy in its flat appearance. It’s just not safe; and it’s really not as it first appears; and there’s so much more to it than aha.

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