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Hersey and McDonough’s respective bodies of work each address specifics within hard-to-hold quandaries found in every day of our socially centered world; pondering how to exist in the milieu and remain receptive to the change surrounding us, while still endeavoring to preserve our pasts. Here, environments personal and global are highly complex mechanisms, reflections of the unsettling fluctuation of experience and identity.


Hersey’s recent large works on mylar encompass several different categories - they incorporate painting, printmaking, collage, and photography both found and gleaned from personal archives. Perhaps they could be called assemblages, though their scale also leads away from what typically comes to mind when thinking of a two-dimensional assembled work. The handling of paint and the way in which the photographic fragments are torn and laid down are both expressionistic, and their body-sized dimensions allow us to receive these with movement and process in mind. Process intervenes here in such a way that the subjects of the photographs are not always immediately accessible, in turn creating opportunities for these to be absorbed as abstractions.


Confined comfort is considered through a suggestion of interior with glimpses of what could be textiles, wallpaper or furniture - while in others, a painterly layering of acrylic and mono-print implies landscape. Content combined with the possibility of multiple passes that arises from printmaking opens the rich relationship between body, the passage of time, and environment. Body as landscape speaks to a deep connection that we have with the natural world; our relationship to the body can mirror our understanding of our environment in that it can be as personal as it is apt to change. Some of these works also incorporate vintage pornography, which considers the changing perceptions and anxieties of sexuality alongside our uncertain connection to the planet and its fluctuations, both of which are results of mankind’s collective history of abuse often passed off to ignorance. Looking at Hersey’s recent work reminds of the possibility to reassess these anxieties in a variety of ways.


While Hersey explores uncertainty towards the body and image through avenues of reassembly and the dichotomy of natural and created setting, David McDonough’s paintings come closer to prolonged cartography of individual existence. Even the first encounter with these paintings is like seeing an old friend. The reason is partially obvious: McDonough has been focusing on interpretations of the same form over several bodies of work, but truthfully there is something deeper and more archaic to experiencing these paintings than simple form recognition. As humans we oft fall into the trap of narrative placement, straining to put objects in a setting and attach a story to meaning, but that’s not what these works are wholly about. They address the condition of the unknown through environment and material; an inquiry of self and meaning is both apparent and available to the viewer through the avatar of this unnamed figure and the peregrine exploration of material on the surface, as well as possible interpretations of the uncertain locations that are depicted.


As with Hersey’s works, landscape and place again function as both metaphor and simile for a common disquiet towards uneasy aspects of Being versus being. McDonough uses a range of different mediums and applications to create a variety of specific other-worlds, most often combining powdered charcoal and paint but occasionally adhering less traditional materials that appear like fine gravel or turf used in scenic dioramas, offering a surprising texture. All of these different scenarios and sometimes-physical intrusions affect the central figure from picture to picture, and maybe that tells an aspect of the search itself. How can one survive, dream, and, so-willing, flourish while remaining responsive to but separate from the external world? McDonough and Hersey are both prying into understanding individual experiences while keeping the door wide open for someone to join in with their own complete set, which is something that can be easily passed over but exists as riches for those patient enough to participate.


“I realized that my anguish - my mind, if you prefer - was painfully trying to unite itself with my body; my mind could no longer manifest itself without producing an immediate effect on my body - on matter. Later it would exercise itself upon other objects. I was trying to understand this vertigo of seek an accord between the mountain, my mind, and my body. In order to be able to move around in this new world, I had recourse to my heritage...and set aside the strength of my will, seeking through gentleness an understanding of the mountain, my body, and my mind.” - Leonora Carrington, Down Below, New York: The New York Review of Books, © 1988 Leonora Carrington, rereleased 2017,  pp. 9-10.


Ellen Hersey and David McDonough are both artists living and work in New York. Text by Amanda Konishi, 2018.

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