Anna Conway's recent paintings pose a number of questions: are we able to, by acting on our environments, change ourselves? Can our labor and attention to the spaces around us really protect us from feelings of alienation, ugliness and banality? Or can they only provide an illusion of control, a balm, a suspension of disbelief? Conway shows us the moments in which our best efforts falter briefly, her subjects trapped in between the quotidian, the existential and the spiritual: a young custodian, deep in thought, pauses while arranging flowers on a decorative ledge in a mega church; a terrified American executive peers out the window of his condo at the plume of smoke rising over a desert city; a docent spends his golden years waiting for visitors with whom to share his knowledge of life in colonial America, uncertain that anyone will turn up.
All these figures are delicately rendered but the empathy we feel for them is as much a function of their settings as it is about their actions, inaction or appearance. Conway, above all else, is sensitive to psychology and the minutiae of space, taste and decor-to interior and exterior worlds-upon which she layers personification and pathetic fallacy: the church's restrained institutional palette is marred only by the ostentation of a small waterfall set into the pulpit, a vague promise of material comfort to match the transcendental; the sterility of the condo, an extended stay furnished suite, is seen against the blinding sun that glares through floor to-ceiling windows and the overstuffed couches heaped with dirty dishes and laundry.
In two other paintings only the inanimate traces of human ambitions have been left behind to relate the story: a rough patch, revealing wires and cables, has been cut out of a mural depicting the folk art motif of the biblical 'peaceable kingdom,' in which the lion, the lamb and the rest of the animal world coexist harmoniously and in a bathroom decorated by another mural, a yellow sticky note has been left on the mirror as a reminder that 'it's not going to happen like that'. The visceral sense of absence in these paintings encourages self-reflection on the part of the viewer: through the anonymity of thought, we enter these pregnant voids, for a moment filling their emptiness and perhaps experiencing in a small way the sense of expectation that quietly weighs on the occupants of the other works.
The events in all these paintings illuminate the post-it axiom; namely, that while we try to control our environment and manage all the many things beyond ourselves, the results of our efforts may land us anywhere on the scale between comedy and tragedy but they're never what we expect. Conway's methodical approach to painting further instantiates this idea: all the perfectly rendered details add up to something that is more than, but uncannily other than, the sum of their parts. One imagines another painting, absent from the show, depicting another note in the same house: 'its not going to happen like that, either.'
Anna Conway lives and works in New York, having received her BFA from Cooper Union and her MFA from Columbia University. Group and solo exhibitions include: Guild and Greyshkul, NY; Mitchell, Innes and Nash, NY; The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City and Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels. Her work has been published in numerous journals including, Art in America, Artforum, Modern Painters, Art Review and The New Yorker. This is her first exhibition with the gallery.