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Marilyn McAvoy, "Viaje 123," 2006, oil and acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches.
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Marilyn McAvoy, "Viaje 462," 2006, oil and acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches.
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"White Poppy with Fresco"
Marilyn McAvoy, "White Poppy with Fresco," 2006, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 48 inches.
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"Yellow Pear with Wallpaper"
Marilyn McAvoy, "Yellow Pear with Wallpaper," 2006, oil and acrylic on canvas, 33 x 48 inches.
MARILYN MCAVOY, Mementi Mori
Winchester Galleries, Victoria
Jan 6 – Jan 27, 2007
By Allan Antliff
Technical virtuosity and sentimentally find their resolution in Marilyn McAvoy’s meditations on the theme of memento mori which updates the 17th century tradition of Dutch vanitas painting and gives it a personal touch. The Dutch depicted exquisitely beautiful arrangements of flowers, fruits, and vegetables in finely crafted vases and plates and inscribed them with stages of decay – wilted petals, fruit that is blemished or over-ripe, chipped and cracked porcelain – to remind us of the fleeting nature of life’s passage and our mortal imperfections in the face of God. McAvoy evokes the theme of time’s passage by way of personal loss and the enduring ways in which we remember those who have passed away.
Three paintings titled Viaje (“journey” in Spanish) depict decaying flowers in humble containers – tin cans and cheap vases – left behind in a Mexican cemetery to mark the tombs of loved ones. Five other paintings are divided into tripartite sections, combining meticulous depictions of flowers in isolation, arrangements that look slightly faded and worn, and nebulous areas painted to suggest the walls of old rooms.
Given that McAvoy embarked on these works after the death of her mother, they might well be treated as “meditations” on the aesthetic sensibility of domestic life in North Bay, Ontario, where the artist was raised. They certainly evoke the feel of a small town Ontario home.
White Poppy with Fresco (2006), for example, includes a trompe l’oeil section of faded and stained floral wallpaper that has deteriorated to expose the underlying plaster. Beside it is a second section containing a lush, richly coloured grouping of garden flowers, some of them decaying. A close-up of a white poppy hovers between them, meticulously rendered and surrounded by a square of solid gold paint that heightens its isolation. Time’s passage, and our inability to evade it by cultivating beauty, whether through gardening, interior decoration or painting itself, is the poignant message here.
The successful pairing of works like White Poppy with Fresco and depictions of Mexican grave memorials is all the more surprising, until the viewer realizes McAvoy has created a subtle interface between the two. The brightly coloured borders that “frame” the Viaje tomb series are decorated with what appears to be flower patterning for lace runners – Viaje 123 – and wallpaper – Viaje 462.
Perhaps there is a shared aesthetic at work here. Stepping back from the subject matter and whatever sentimentality it conjures up, McAvoy’s virtuoso ability to replicate degrees of reality and artifice again come to the fore, underlining that above all else these paintings are the product of an accomplished artist who calculates. In the final analysis, McAvoy reminds us that what we respond to – the air of melancholy, sentimentality, decay and loss – is as much a product of our imagination as the fictive reality she creates.