Robert McCann

Staged Revolt

April 15 — July 2, 2017 | Art League Gallery
Reception: May 5, 2017 | 5:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Gallery talk about his work beginning at 7:00 p.m.

Robert McCann, Whitefish Point Paradise, oil on panel, 72x48in, 2015

In my current series, popular wrestlers act as stand-ins for our transitory and ritual roles in society. I regard these densely populated works as singular visual contraptions, with tactile and optical elements having as much to do with painting’s abstract language as with representation and fiction. An analogy of being masked and exposed extends beyond the picture to the painting’s form. The process of constructing the large, time-consuming imaginative story paintings also lead to/ are complemented by smaller improvisational paintings and drawings that more directly reference footage of historical matches or play on other larger-than-life figures.

Robert McCann, Mystery Spot, oil on linen, 96x50in, 2017

Two overlapping interests define my current work: the intersection of role-playing, fiction, fantasy, and history; and the relationships between painting, time, and the body. History here includes interaction among characters portrayed in the ring over generations and in film by the likes of El Santo and Roddy Piper, as well as history accumulated in a process of layered, responsive making. Staging wrestlers in out-of-context relationships allows me to explore ideas like identity or stereotype while visually handling less nameable pursuits like the relation of bodies in space at a singular instance. The subject of pro wrestling presents a provocative tension between the real and unreal. Wrestling’s performers often portray characters based on their actual personalities, self-image, or heritage; and what is acknowledged to be artificial is acted out with real physical and psychological consequences, under a certain pall of inevitability. The wrestler’s position on the precarious edge of representation was articulated a half century ago by philosopher Roland Barthes in his essay The World of Wrestling. Barthes suggested that in the performance of popular wrestling gestures were “exploited to the limit of their meaning”. Wrestling’s story, for Barthes, was always portrayal of an insistently unfair societal system, and the occasional release into a mythic enactment of justice. In contemporary media culture that construct can be seen underlying how reality television is produced and edited and how news and politics are framed.

I’m interested in how ritual presentation of what the public wants and gets can be subverted in the visual terms of a painting, where collection of anecdotal information and its tactile production returns it to humane impurity. The reimagining process establishes a fundamental conflict in the painting’s status as a constructed, simultaneous moment made more implausible as its field of focus widens and as a meditation on the physicality of bodies that becomes more enduring at length.

I think of painting as a theatrical, time-based, and a sculptural media. I like art that rambles a bit.

–Robert McCann, 2017

Robert A. McCann is a Midwest-based artist and educator. Born and raised in the Ozarks of southwest Missouri, he received an MFA in Painting from Indiana University in 2001 and subsequently pursued creative practice in Germany as a Fulbright scholar. Since that time his paintings have frequently dealt with the potential for metaphors in our byzantine mass media culture, and with the overwriting of epic and intimate events in the particular artifice of painting. McCann’s recent venues of solo exhibition include the University of Arkansas Galleries in Little Rock, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and the Ormond Memorial Art Museum in Florida. He currently shows his work with Amos Eno Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. McCann is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art, Art History & Design at Michigan State University, where he leads the Foundations Area and teaches in painting.

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