When perusing the titles of artist Joe Macca’s latest body of work, one might be struck by their directness. Names such as “Bird” and “Insect” instantly evoke images of creatures we encounter everyday. But, in Macca’s paintings, the everyday is rendered in unexpected ways.
When perusing the titles of artist Joe Macca’s latest body of work, one might be struck by their directness. Names such as “Bird” and “Insect” instantly evoke images of creatures we encounter everyday. But, in Macca’s paintings, the everyday is rendered in unexpected ways. An image entitled “Finch” is a soft-focus study of subtly shifting color: light ochre tones blend with darker shades of violet and gray.
The finch in the title is conspicuously absent, almost as though the bird itself had been dissolved into its most fundamental constituents: those of light, hue and texture. These elements feature prominently in Macca’s new exhibition of oil and acrylic paintings, entitled “MellowDrama,” which will be showing this Tuesday and throughout October at PDX Contemporary Art.
This isn’t the first time the venue has hosted work by Macca. Previous showings include last January’s “slowblivion,” as well as his exhibits “Oxygen Paintings” and “The Color of Underappreciated Things.” The gallery, which began as a small space in the Pearl District, has since moved to its newer, roomier location on Northwest Flanders Street. They recently displayed the work of artist Nell Warren, whose abstract approach to landscape painting mirrors Macca’s inventiveness, if not his style.
Macca, a Portland native, has been dedicated to painting since 1996. He claims to have always had an interest in all things visual (film, drawing, etc.), but in his mid-20s realized that painting was his true calling. He received his Master of Fine Arts from Portland State University in 1999, and, shortly after graduation, began teaching art at PSU part time.
“Teaching keeps me in visual art day to day”, says Macca, “so coupled with the making of my own work, I’m pretty much always involved in art.” This dedication to his craft is obvious when viewing the artist’s paintings. Each one reveals a finely honed sense of balance and composition expressed almost exclusively through the interplay of color, which is clearly a pivotal component in Macca’s body of work. He draws inspiration from average physical objects, although these subjects are stripped of the forms we would typically associate with them—leaving behind a distillation of their pre-dominant pigments.
According to Macca, his paintings are “simultaneously representational and abstract: the color is literal, therefore representational, the re-presentation of that color is abstract, reductive.” His art seems to inhabit that nebulous realm between memory and direct sensation, the subjective and the objective. Much of his latest work can be likened to the ghost images you might see after glancing at the sun and tightly shutting your eyes. Washes of soft, delicate color play across the canvas like an aurora across the sky.
Macca’s work appears rooted in the traditions of minimalism and encompasses everything from literature to architecture. Even within this broad field, though, it’s somewhat difficult to find an artist that shares his unique aesthetic of understated beauty. If Mark Rothko’s starkly delineated, high-contrast forms were to evaporate in slow motion, they might look something like the works that comprise MellowDrama. But Macca’s subjects feel more grounded than Rothko’s, more steeped in the realm of earthly, corporeal life. These paintings almost seem to challenge us to reevaluate our surroundings and to engage in our familiar landscapes in playful, novel ways.