Dan McCleary
Still Lifes
Images | Biography

Astrid Preston
Between Worlds
Images | Biography



August 7 - September 11, 2021

Reception: August 7, 2021 4-6PM

Dan McCleary Artist Statement

I usually work on small still life paintings between larger figurative works. For the past fifteen months, however, I have been working almost exclusively on paintings of fruit and flowers. I paint them from life.

My studio is on a busy street next to MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. Since the shutdown, there has been a palpable silence in our usually loud and chaotic neighborhood. In the solitude that accompanies this period of Coronavirus and quarantine, it has felt appropriate to be alone in the studio with the still lifes.

Each painting takes about two days to complete. I take a long time to set up the fruit or arrange the flowers. I keep regular hours – 10am to 6:30pm. When I am working, I spend as much time staring at what is in front of me as I do putting down on canvas the phenomena that I observe.

The fruit does not change much in the time required to work on it. An apple remains static and allows me to focus on the nuances of the shape, color, and shadows.

Working on the flower paintings is very different. The stems soften, the petals drop. Given these physical changes, I am more focused on the ephemeral passage of time. Unlike the fruit, the flowers are continuously moving. I am less in control.

The space around the objects is as important as the objects themselves. The backgrounds become darker where they meet the light part of the flowers or fruit.

The more I look, the more I see. I become aware of subtle shifts in the color of the wall, table, and the subjects themselves. I move in closer at the end of the day and see more details. Light in LA is fairly consistent, unchanging throughout the day, though shadows become richer in the late afternoon. Because I work in northern light they never change their direction.

With both the fruit and flower paintings, my palette consists of pure colors: warm and cool red, yellow, and blue. I also use white. From these primary colors I can get close to any color I see. Looking at something for many hours is, of course, very different from taking a picture. The photograph is a second’s worth of information. The paintings of the fruit and flowers also capture the passage of time, but over a longer duration.

My day can consist of staring at a plum on a piece of grey paper for eight hours. This activity is completely engrossing and wordless. The more concentration it takes, the more difficult it is to return to the other activities of the day. After leaving the studio, I struggle to engage in conversation. This sense of wordlessness has been intensified by quarantine. Social interactions have been accompanied by a negotiation of safety and caution. Before Coronavirus I took for granted the ability to observe people in an unconscious and relaxed manner. The masks worn during the pandemic have made it impossible to really look at people.

As Quarantine slowly comes to an end, I look forward to once again drawing and painting people from life. I have no idea what this figurative work will look like. During these fourteen months of social distancing, I have been happy to spend my time working on these still lifes and giving my sustainedattention to subjects that are so alive, beautiful, and silent.

Astrid Preston Artist Statment

During these last long months of trying to understand and express the feeling of my ungrounded quarantine existence, I have felt a compulsion to paint objects floating in space. These objects have mostly been flowers, which for me symbolize beauty and hope but also the fleetingness and fragility of life.

My work is always rooted in my experience of the world, with nature as my vocabulary. The paintings are primarily inner landscapes, but they grow out of the act of observing my actual surroundings. They are an exploration and a search—a dialogue between what goes on inside and out. Many of the flowers portrayed here are based on photo- graphs I took while walking every day in my neighborhood and that I then returned to paint for hours in isolation. As it was for so many artists in this disquieting time, work became my total focus, my attempt to find meaning and create structure in a time of chaos.

As my work progressed, simpler spheres began appearing among the flowers. I think of them as protoplanets among archetypal flowers. They serve to activate the space and increase the gravitational attraction among the elements. At the same time the flowers themselves proliferated. For the painting Spring, I used only my favorite flower, the tree peony, but in a range of real and imagined colors. The painting Summer started with flowers everywhere, and I spent months removing some and adding others to create a more open composition, a space one could enter and inhabit. In contrast to the predominantly floating elements in the other three paintings, Fall introduces some grounding features—the stems which seem to originate outside the picture frame. In Winter, the central space suggests what I envision as two soft lungs, perhaps the fullness of a long, metaphorical breath. The small, square flower paintings are like portraits, a more direct expres- sion of a flower at a given moment.

Together these paintings reflect my emotional journey through these months of time suspended—a sense of being adrift between worlds—a time with its own eloquence and imperatives.