Despite the horrific depictions of body parts, severed heads, statues and perhaps most creepy of all a huge cache of dollar bills, the monumental new paintings in The absence of justice demands this act at the new Fergus McCaffrey Gallery in Chelsea, NY have a strange compelling beauty.
Comparable in scale to Goya’s The Second Of May (1808), Brian Maguire’s paintings tell the story of the contemporary Mexican drug wars around the city of Juárez – the murder capital of the world – where more than 5,000 people have been butchered by drug cartels over the past six years. Maguire has worked regularly in the area painting portraits of victims and trying to find humanity in the wake of continuous tragedy. His documentary film Blood Rising, co-produced by Mark McLoughlin and Brian Maguire, which details the murder of 1400 young women in Juárez and Maguire’s engagement with that situation, is included in the exhibition.
Writing about the film, Ed Vulliamy of The Guardian of London has observed, “Narrators of stories of this kind, if they care, have a fear of exploiting grief as they walk the high wire between narrative and voyeurism.” While the paintings deal directly with images of horror, the effect is not sensational or overtly shocking. Stylistically Maguire is of a generation sympathetic to expressionist gestures, but this work takes its time and disarms with an almost lyrical approach. It uses paint’s ability to render humanity via flesh tones, and in a simple depiction of blue jeans, invites the viewer to connect with the headless victim. In another painting of mangled bodies bathed in a yellow light, the composition suggests an altarpiece, but where the religious icon might be expected, we find instead a container for formaldyhide. The paintings are operating on a high wire, not only as depictions of extraordinary content, but also in the inherent appeal of painting itself, as it operates in Maguire’s work in the realm between the ugly and the beautiful.
Posted by Robert Armstrong