Derek McLarty, Kingsmills The Front Doors, Oil, 24×36
“Our institutional architecture, even at its worst, inevitably leaves indelible marks in long term memory.”
Unless one is fortunate enough to live in Paris or Rome, a daily traverse in a city might be visually underwhelming: most of the structures and streetscapes that compose the urban experience are not constructed with high architectural aesthetics in mind. The urban world tends to grow along perfunctory, utilitarian and pragmatic needs and budgets. What results is a built environment known as the vernacular: it has more in common with every day speech and dialogue than a high-minded lecture on ideas and ideals. Of course, that doesn’t occlude a deep influence from the urban vernacular on our psyche. “The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant heap,” urban theorist Lewis Mumford wrote in The Culture of Cities. “But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind.” This week, several new exhibitions around town explore those “simpler and more personal” expressions of the urban fabric conditioning our minds.
Urban is a show of new paintings and drawings by London artist Derek McLarty at Westland Gallery that puts a frame on the transitional nature of the urban environment with a focus on the variety of materials — stone, tile, concrete, steel and hardware employed through time and stylistic shifts in taste and design. As with Matt Tarini’s recent Liminal show at McIntosh, McLarty’s gaze often catches the transitional zones of the city: alleyways, subway platforms, under and over-passes, zones designed for passage rather than aesthetic perspective.
As one might expect with such subjects, there’s an egregious, off-putting proliferation of muted tones of gray and beige in this series, though it could be argued McLarty is merely capturing the anti-aesthetics of much of our urban infrastructure and utilitarian building principles. But his eye tends to capture something interesting at play in most of these works, be it a crinkled blind disrupting the orderly linearity of a modernist façade or the contrast between a banal air grate and the dazzle of sunlight screened behind a curtain.
Elsewhere, McLarty expertly documents the various sheens of the surfaces of materials, the weathering, patina and stains borne through time in the paintings Spadina, Tiled Corner and Wall Drain. His technical prowess brings high realist detail to a café storefront in Daily Brew, andfully captures vintage copper handles in Kingsmill’s: The Front Doors.And yet, paradoxically, it’s some of the simpler forms and representations here — a rendering of the ubiquitous galvanized fence slicing through a snow-laden field (in February Dusk)— that lend true intrigue: it’s not so much a barrier or divide performing just another practical urban function, but an object of beauty in its own right.
Derek McLarty Urban at Westland Gallery until October 3
Artist talk: Sunday September 27 at 1 p.m.