A Hush Before The Fall: The Paintings of Faris McReynolds Tema Celeste, Fall 2003

By Eve Wood

Faris McReynold's paintings at Roberts & Tilton stem directly from a peculiar suggestiveness, often propounding questions that don't want to be answered; looking at his work, one gets the feeling that were an attempt to answer these questions made possible, it would mean very little, since each image proposes a kind of boundless circle that continues to open out, even as it remains unknowable. McReynold's, one of the freshly culled and groomed young artists recently released from art school (Otis College), has a strange "enigmatic" way of seeing, a soft, desultory vision that seems at once to confound and delight him, and if love does indeed come into play here, it manifests itself in the quiet deliberation of his imagery.

It's not that McReynold's paintings pose specific questions, but that a particular process or "essential exploration" is evident in the work, and can in fact be followed from painting to painting. Absence is centralized in each image, creating a strange and vaguely seductive system dependent upon what has gone missing or was never there to begin with. This process is a little like falling in love -- we depend on something mysterious and incomprehensible, an ellipsis of feeling that has no basis in reality, a deceptive sense of "completion," when in fact the whole thing is highly suspect. As in love, a strange redoubling occurs in Faris McReynold's paintings where the isolated moment becomes a moment of intense implication that cannot be justified or explained away. McReynold's paintings float beyond the quietude, the hush of a private awakening, implying perhaps an alternate, associative journey through a sort of substituted time and memory.

McReynold's is concerned with the irony that informs the gaze, and so, you find here no haunted, empty, Eden-eyed girls, or men who seduce with a false stare, radiating some personal loss or betrayal. McReynold's figures are at home with their complexities, and the endless moment in which nothing can be adequately explained, and yet still we are riveted and oddly compelled. In his painting "The Black Hole," McReynolds gives us the ripe deciduousness of the forest -- leaves fall or are in the process of falling, the whole world, serene, autumnal. In the distance stands the stump of a tree like an amputated limb, or a mythic reminder of things that have passed, yet this is how it should be. It makes perfect sense. This is the cycle of life closing in around us, implicating us in its passing because soon it will be winter. Winter is inevitable. Directly across from this painting, as though in dialogue with it, is "Let's Go To The Middle," which shows a heavy-metal like character walking with a little girl. The scene could be read as menacing except for the fact the girl is looking forward, leading the two of them out of a forest, as the man gazes down at her, as though he were learning the greatest lesson of his life, a lesson that supersedes piercings and black leather. Another redoubling occurs in this image in that we do not know for sure which of the two figures is the more enlightened, and one would tend to think it would be the adult, yet this, like everything else is thrown into question since the little, blonde girl propels them forward with her intense forward gaze. The perspective in both these paintings is completely flat, indeed verging on comedic, and the colors so light as to nearly disappear in their evanescence. Reds are not bright, but dim and suggestive, muted, hinting perhaps at some apocalyptic moment still to come, to a day in the middle of autumn that none of us might come back from. Similarly, the yellows and browns in these paintings seem so calm as to be radioactive, acting on you slowly and without your even being aware of it. Things could be different, yet gladly we succumb to the inevitable fall.

McReynolds has an eye for the despairing moment. His paintings are defined by mystery, and a precarious sort of wisdom; the question arises: where are we anyway? How exactly does McReynolds define the spaces he gives us? In another painting, aptly titled "Untitled (courtyard)," McReynolds distorts our sense of perspective and time. He has painted an apartment complex much like any other apartment complex except that somehow we know, on an almost instinctual level, that we have been here before. The oddness of the scene, coupled with the strange, disorienting perspective, brings to mind the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Suddenly it is April 4th, in the early morning, and we are in Memphis, Tennessee moments before the shooting. Or, this could be just another tacky motel gone to seed. Either way, McReynolds plays upon our sense of divine expectation wherein the things we see must somehow correlate, if only on an intuitive level, with an essential primal image that determines our humanity.

In another painting, "Cemetery Gate," a young woman looks out at us, not so much as a challenge, but to remind us of the fact that she is aware of her own power to affect us. On her shirt is the Bau Haus symbol, an image associated with iconoclasm and open-ended kinds of thinking. Her gaze suggests she might possess some knowledge that we are not yet clued into, and were we to lean in just a little closer, she would whisper it to us, and we would never be the same afterward. McReynold's navigates the space between the young woman's gaze, and our own expectations of what she might be thinking.

It's a difficult task to affect through mystery and suggestiveness, and often work that attempts to achieve this appears tired and mawkish, the idea of mystery confused with some sentimental impulse. McReynolds understands where to step and how much weight to throw down as he passes. He attains a delicate balance in his paintings wherein the "mysterious stranger" becomes a symbol of autonomy, secrecy and grace. McReynolds allows himself the indulgence of mystery, and so the people who populate his paintings are given full rein to ask questions with a simple glance or gesture, to engage in the long, heated stare and moments of intense wonder.