In the Footsteps of the Starry Messenger, now on view at Figureworks Gallery in Brooklyn, is a show of works about time, but not necessarily time as we know it, manifested as the undeniable force which makes the second hand continually tick for all eternity. Time, in Meridith McNeal’s work, speaks of the timeliness that underlies all things human; the human spirit and its course. The works within In the Footsteps of the Starry Messenger were inspired by the artist’s residence at the American Academy in Rome, but more importantly, the work was inspired by the steep history of the ancient city, and one can most certainly feel the human interactions the artist encountered there. It is possible that the experience of being an outsider in a foreign land required the artist to become more attuned to a universal way of communicating with others, which, after all, may be said to be the sole purpose of Art. This aspect may have subconsciously influenced McNeal’s humanistic approach to her paintings and drawings. Meridith McNeal has successfully captured in her nib and ink drawings, as well as her watercolor paintings, the spirit of her subjects along with the presence of a past that cannot be detached from the emotions that arise while looking at them.
Included in the show is a striking pair of nib pen and ink drawings that are both seen as soon as one enters the Figureworks Gallery. They are both 32” x 32” squares that are unusually arresting from across the room and also at an intimate closeness. This is a quality McNeal’s work possesses; a certain desire that is evoked in the viewer to study up close. These intricate drawings have a surface built upon them from layers of overlapping nib pen strokes that build to create the image of a cat, but these two works are not simply drawings of cats side by side. These cats revel in their own grandiose personalities. One lies across the curves of an adorned chandelier in one drawing, while it’s neighbor looks out towards the viewer from an embellished oval-like chandelier, enclosing its foreshortened torso. Both cats are set in a surrounding aura of shadows created by the repeated motion of nib against paper. The artist’s hand can be felt swaying through the darkness that surrounds the two felines. McNeal’s strokes evoke the feeling of watching seaweed swaying in the invisible currents of a dark ocean. These two drawings undoubtedly recall two spirits, not of mere house cats, but the ghostly presence of two after hour visitors, of perhaps, a deserted dance hall.
Of the smaller works in the show, there is a collection of sixteen paintings of shoes displayed upon one of the very first walls of the gallery. All sixteen paintings are 7” x 7” squares, in rows of four and four to create one large square from a distance. However, the subtleties do not go unnoticed from the larger format. Once again, McNeal draws her viewers inward, and invites them to look deeper at her stark, quivering lines of black ink; to follow them around the contour of the pointed toe of a shoe, and then to bring the eye to the softly spoken holes of the lace upon it. This is not to say that the paint is applied daintily, but that it is applied in way that reveals itself to be brand new each time the viewer discovers these details. The way McNeal chooses to crop each shoe, or pair of shoes, in some instances, borders abstraction in a very beautiful way that only subjects derived from life can do. These smaller shoe paintings are not just visually pleasing, but they are also portraits that are so well done, it would be impossible for one to stand in front of them and not see the shoes of someone they know, or the shoes of their own subconscious persona. In a way, the series of shoes are like yearbook photos of the internal “shoes” we wear with every new circumstance.
In the Footsteps of the Starry Messenger is a show of intriguing portraits taken from a unique perspective of an all- embracing human spirit, traveling in the all-encompassing vortex of time. Meridith McNeal’s show, In the Footsteps of the Starry Messenger will be on view until February 21, at Figureworks Gallery.