Tuesday, May 02, 2006


The Philadelphia painter Sarah McEneaney has a show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York City, on view through June 2.

I wrote the preface essay for Sarah's catalogue. One curious detail I didn't discuss concerns the image included here: "My Lucky Garden," 2006 (egg tempera on wood). Between this past January and March I visited Sarah several times at her house and studio. Each visit her painting "My Lucky Garden" was closer and closer to being completed, and each time the construction around her house (noted in the painting), being built by an Asian contractor for Asian residents of Chinatown called: My Lucky Garden, was nearer and nearer to being completed as well.

Here is the first paragraph of my essay on Sarah's work.

By Tom Devaney
You don’t so much control as work with your materials, which inevitably include yourself, whatever may be your most intimate facts. —Bill Berkson from “Working with Joe”

Looking at the paintings of Sarah McEneaney, one is struck by the intimacy of her panoramic views. Taking McEneaney’s everyday surroundings as her subject matter is one thing. But these are remarkable figurative paintings, a convincing and nuanced marriage of a person and paint. Yes, there are the accumulated moments and charted events of Sarah’s recent history: her cancer; the death of her dog Birdy; her work in the studio; the construction and build-up of Tresletown, her industrial neighborhood in Philadelphia’s Chinatown north. But it is the painterly attention she pays to her subject matter and her singular treatment of it that is most captivating. The interplay of subject matter, scale, and exacting egg tempera paint is simply marvelous. In the painting RB Fisher (2005), your eyes address a tiny figure (Sarah) working in a spare, seemingly white, studio; they drift up to the large window opening out onto the summertime trees, then rise even further to the sloping pink and white wood ceiling and return to the wide-angled green floor area, only to encounter five or six miniature paintings in progress on the studio walls, along with a dog, a table, and a few other chairs scattered just so throughout the space.


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