Paul McLean’s solo exhibition “Code Duello, Old Hick, & A Big Bang” brings the Brooklyn-based artist back to Nashville for the first time in over a decade with a complex, diverse show touching on Andrew Jackson and his Indian Removal Act of 1830. It includes bright, popping paintings juxtaposed with monochromatic works of black ink on transparent polyester, and a single video piece that pulls exhibition images and the artist’s visual influences over cicadalike keens and a heartbeat percussion.
McLean’s paintings seem to converse best when employing the narrative strength and line work of his drawing style through big translations of paint. His smaller pieces, which focus on repetitive patterns or surrounding dense sketches of soldiers with acrylic paint, feel unfinished when viewed against the more engaging canvases Bazooka Joe Old Hick or Trail of Tears.
McLean’s flat works on polyester dominate the central space of the gallery, taking two sides of the main room. It’s a clever choice to hang these parallel to each other, creating a spatial duel—a corridor of tension, opposition, and context for pieces that alone might otherwise read as relatively quiet, if brooding—for content engaging the history of dueling. Interesting and gritty as they straddle the line between drawing and painting, these pieces feel most successful when the stylization recedes into silhouette: the Rorschach abstraction of a form, a target, an act of violence. In any case, in letting them speak as a body of forensic evidence encouraging the viewer to piece together a larger idea, they remain as visually strong as the larger paintings bookending the works.
“Code Duello, Old Hick, & A Big Bang” is on view at David Lusk Gallery through July 26.
M Kelley is a Nashville-based creative, an advocate for dialogue in contemporary art, an active contributor to a variety of diverse publications and arts initiatives. Kelley curates for the project space 40AU and the collective HAUS Rotations. Hir social practice revolves around a fascination with the complexities of communication and narrative; providing educational and developmental opportunities; and inviting others into collaboration through studiOmnivorous.com.