A sightline refers to a direct line of vision between spectator and an object in view, whether it’s the Washington Monument, a Broadway musical, or an NFL playoff game. To painter Dana Clancy, sightlines are a way to compose and construct a painting from multiple viewpoints. In Sightlines, her solo exhibition at Alpha Gallery, each of her fifteen works orients us through a network of perspectives, geometric reflections, and refractions of color.
The works in Sightlines each depicts a view from inside a contemporary Boston museum with the exception of “Past Present” which captures the Villa Savoye in Poissy, France, a modernist feat by Le Corbusier. Clancy’s artist statement clues into her process of returning to these institutions over time to observe, draw, photograph and repeat. In a way, these visits become personal rituals; The spaces become familiar but never quite the same as she left them. Thus, Clancy’s paintings represent a compilation of transitory changes, not unlike the moment between film frames or the unnameable poetry of a passing memory.
In “That over This,” a body-sized oil on panel, we stand on a stairwell with a transparent barrier overlooking the progress of a construction project on a bright salmon floor. After the initial jolt of entry into the space— like being dropped into a dream— further examination reveals a representation of Dale Chihuly’s “Lime Green Icicle Tower” being installed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A few minuscule figures stand around with candid and classic gestures. A jaded museum attendant surveys with arms crossed, an enthusiastic visitor takes a photo with their phone. The piece exemplifies Clancy’s modus operandi and the multi-layered idea of looking: we see the scene through the eyes of the artist as we also look at others looking at the same spectacle. It would be too simplistic to call this voyeuristic. Clancy suggests an intersection of personal experiences that occurs in a public space where we constantly process and evaluate our surroundings.
In “Fall Feeling” Clancy squeezes us into a small corridor between a window to another room and glass display cases. Here we catch wind of Richard Diebenkorn’s The Ocean Park Series. A collage of muted pastels harmonizes within reverberating geometries. A wedge of vibrant green chimes in against purplish brown. Clancy’s mastery of color affords her daring leaps among meticulous subtleties. “Image Exchange” takes the same liberties. We look through glass at a woman in an exhibition space and around a corner where a tiny figure, presumably the artist, appears to take a picture of the site (us?). Despite the equivocating elements of Clancy’s composition, there’s much to trust in the framework of her drawing lines and the breathy gestures that approximate reflections, statuettes in glass cases, and the pattern on the woman’s dress.
With Diebenkorn comes echoes of Matisse whose interiors often slipped into the outside world through open windows and over balconies. For Clancy, the interior/exterior duality comes through her smaller studies. In “Reframe” and “Double” the tiny photographer who appeared in “Image Exchange” steps into the center of the frame as a reflection, first within a sunny courtyard then a green, shaded terrace. Clancy simultaneously reveals and conceals herself, the surrounding environments overtaking and obscuring her projected form.
A medium-sized oil stands out for its spatial flatness and more neutral palette. It’s entitled, “Sightline” and portrays two figures viewing an object out of frame. A modular light fixture hangs above them like a cyclops. The light’s assertive presence symbolizes the pervading presence of technology in a space predicated on the value and preservation of old objects (that is, a museum). More evidence of the intermingling of old and new appears in “Past Present” where a security camera and informational sign can be spotted in the midst of modernist-era architecture at the Villa Savoye.
By virtue of painting inside museums, Clancy’s work inherently records an institutional devotion to art objects, not only by the museum itself but by its patrons and the artists who have created the work. What resonates most about Sightlines is Clancy’s democratic treatment of the surface: she examines and activates every square inch of the picture plane. To isolate a fragment of one of Clancy’s painting is to reveal a series of tiny, abstract, symbiotic worlds. This attention to detail requires its own kind of devotion, a devotion to art and to the lifelong pursuit of painting.