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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Todd McDonald: Visual Feedback at Redux Contemporary Art Center Reviewed in Daily Serving

Todd McDonald. Go In to Get Out, 2014; oil on panel; 48 x 72 in. Courtesy of the Artist.
This article by Bryan Granger originally appeared in the visual arts magazine Daily Serving and can be found at

Todd McDonald: Visual Feedback at Redux Contemporary Art Center

April 24, 2015 Written by Bryan Granger

The gesture which we would reproduce on canvas shall no longer be a fixed moment in universal dynamism. It shall simply be the dynamic sensation itself. — Umberto Boccioni, et al, 1910

Todd McDonald’s Visual Feedback at Redux Contemporary Art Center addresses new modes of processing and viewing digital images as part of a painting practice. McDonald collects photographs of architectural elements and urban landscapes in order to change them with digital filtering, mirroring, and layering. These manipulation techniques are not novel; rather, they have become the prevalent tools for modifying images. But McDonald’s populist choice of image manipulation is deliberate, and is fascinating when viewed in the context of abstract art—particularly of the avant-garde of the early 20th century.

Take McDonald’s Go In to Get Out (2014), for instance. On its own, the painting appears as a scintillating abstract work that uses scale, strong lines, and vivid color contrasts to enthrall the viewer. Semblances of everyday life appear here and there, with parts of columns and doors becoming subtly recognizable. The painting also has a strong symmetry, both horizontally and vertically. McDonald carefully mirrored and layered a series of images, and then used the digitally manipulated image to create an abstracted composition on canvas with oil paint.

Todd McDonald. Bloom, 2014; oil on panel; 48 x 72 in. Courtesy of the Artist.  
While the resulting paintings are concerned with contemporary issues, they also resonate with art movements that occurred a century ago. Stylistically and conceptually, many of McDonald’s works in this format refer to visual tenets of Cubism and Futurism. Seeking to depart from traditional perspective, Cubists embraced a fragmentation that arose in a rapidly modernizing society, one in which long-held laws of science were constantly proved false. A similar fragmentation can be witnessed today in the way images reconstruct the world as we see it, and McDonald’s paintings explore this discontinuity. Many of McDonald’s works, including Go In to Get Out and Prop Interval (2014), also show a close aesthetic affinity to dynamic Futurist canvases, especially those of Luigi Russolo and Joseph Stella.[1]
Todd McDonald. Prop Interval, 2014; oil on panel; 62 x 37 in. Courtesy of the Artist.
While the connections to these two schools of modernist painting exist, McDonald’s works achieve a similar visual output with a distinct process. The paintings here are not concerned with encapsulating breathtaking speed and impressive force; rather, they present themselves as complex abstractions derived from representations of the world around us. Prop Interval displays semblances of the bland corporate architecture of airports and hospitals, and McDonald’s treatment of it appears more cynical than effusive.
Todd McDonald. Too Many Days in the Blue Maze, 2014; oil on panel; 21 x 41 in. Courtesy of the Artist.
Additionally, McDonald experiments with a technique in which fragmented photographs are connected in a collage-like format to reveal the entire subject. In the painting Too Many Days in the Blue Maze (2014), several images coalesce into a disjointed tableau of an urban parking lot or street scene. This technique, especially when portraying architecture, reminds me of a series of brilliant photo collages by Gordon Matta-Clark. However, where Matta-Clark used this technique to subvert spatial orientation, McDonald approaches it from the level of individual images. By placing each image in context by connecting it to other fragments, McDonald shows how images can both elucidate and disorient our conception of reality. The paintings complicate the world around us.

Todd McDonald. Plasticstacy, 2015; duct tape and mixed media; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist
 McDonald has also created a site-specific installation using duct tape of various colors and patterns titled Plasticstacy (2015). While duct tape can have a gimmicky connotation—and McDonald does little to challenge that—his use of the material traces an impressive conceptual lineage. Referencing Thierry de Duve’s ideas in “The Readymade and the Tube of Paint,” in which the writer links the process of selecting colors and forms to the process in which Marcel Duchamp selected everyday objects as art, McDonald uses duct tape as a medium in which to conflate physical and virtual space. Hovering between the second and third dimensions, Plasticstacy uses extreme perspective to examine the perception of space. In this way, the installation is conceptually linked to his paintings, in which he explores the representation of space through digital images and painting.

McDonald’s paintings ultimately remind viewers that images—especially digital images, which are often and easily manipulated—negotiate our conceptions of and relationship to the world. By using the medium of painting to further bend these images into complex forms, McDonald explores our reliance on the very images that often mediate our own reality.

Todd McDonald: Visual Feedback is on view at Redux Contemporary Art Center through May 9, 2014.

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