Tim Cleary’s painting combines nuanced brushwork and conceptual critique to celebrate painting’s sensorial delights while pointing to a kind of cultural amnesia, a blind spot that persists. Issues of memory and forgetting, collective history and identity reverberate in the eleven new paintings that are on view here. In these faintly rendered landscapes, fields of billowing white and orange clouds are set against smoky blue skies. Steeped in Romanticism, Cleary is keenly aware of Romanticism’s promise of transcendence, the prospect of which lends a loving, gestural hand to his sensuous cloudscapes.
Cleary creates an engaging perceptual play that continually shifts our attention between centers and borders. Billed as a landscape painter, the work here nearly eliminates the ‘scape’ in the term, compressing foreground and background into a shallow depth of field. This is most evident in Wander Below (Pointing At The Sky), in which the snow sits on the picture plane. This compact space, along with the commonplace subject matter, sets Tim Cleary’s work apart from the Hudson River School-inspired tradition that dominates much popular western landscape painting today. The absence of rugged mountains and blazing sunsets, however, does not preclude spiritual aspirations. The seemingly ‘small events’ that he paints magically become the sublime. These ‘small events’ are momentary permutations of colour and form generally caused by shifts in light and perspective.
Cleary’s dexterous handling of the paint adds to the ephemerality. Some pieces, such as The Way Back (Sundials) appear photorealistic from a distance but, upon closer scrutiny, dissolve into almost impressionistic brushstrokes. Whether Cleary’s work conveys the sublime in the way we normally conceive of it depends on the viewer’s predisposition. Interestingly, however, when used as a verb, sublime means the conversion of a solid substance directly into a gas. These paintings, with their airy brushwork, nuanced subject matter and multiple perspectives, fit neatly with this definition, amounting to a refreshing take on the trope of the western landscape.
Text by Aasim Akhtar