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Creative Research Lab

SHADE- August 2005

painting by Meme McNairy

Meme McNairy
I Stand and Look but Am Not There , 2005
oil on panel
44" x 44"

Catalog Essay by Caitlin W. Haskell:

Some paintings don't lend themselves to verbal explication. The first sentence of Paul Valérys writings on Camille Corot reads, "One must always apologize for talking about painting." Later he adds, "a work of art, if it does not leave us mute, is of little value." Susan Sontag reminds her reader of Valéry's insights before delving into her discussion of Howard Hodgkin's paintings. "The idea," Sontag says, "is to put as much as possible of color, of feeling, in each picture." Where color and feeling overflow, words are pushed out.

Squarely part of this non-verbal tradition, and sometimes similar to Hodgkin's work, descriptions of Meme McNairy's paintings don't really take a reader very far. McNairy has titled her works evocatively: I Stand and Look but am not There, I Stand and Look but am not Here, I Stand. She uses the metaphor of the window pane as a visually permeable space dividing interior and exterior realms, awareness, and its opposite. She offers these words as points of entry, but beyond this point, words stop. McNairy's objective, displaying distinct stages in the process of becoming conscious, does not have a suitable verbal correlative. In place of an essay, I have selected a poem that might encourage viewers to begin their journey.

"Moonbeam" by Louise Glück, The Seven Ages
(Ecco Press, 2001)

The mist rose with a little sound. Like a thud.
Which was the heart beating. And the sun rose, briefly diluted.
And after what seemed years, it sank again
and twilight washed over the shore and deepened there.
And from out of nowhere lovers came,
people who still had bodies and hearts. Who still had
arms, legs, mouths, although by day they might be
housewives and businessmen.

The same night also produced people like ourselves.
You are like me, whether or not you admit it.
Unsatisfied, meticulous. And your hunger is not for experience
but for understanding, as though it could be had in the abstract.

Then it's daylight again and the world goes back to normal.
The lovers smooth their hair; the moon resumes its hollow existence.
And the beach belongs again to mysterious birds
soon to appear on postage stamps.

But what of our memories, the memories of those who depend on images?
Do they count for nothing?

The mist rose, taking back proof of love.
Without which we have only the mirror, you and I.