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Tire Iron 48: Michael Kennaugh

Like a staged civil war battle, Kennaugh paintings are complete to the smallest detail, except for the blood.

Michael Kennaugh, Wigwam, 2002 ...graphite, acrylic & oil on paper, 22

Taut modernist shapes like bent coat hangers articulate big open areas of raw canvas, mellowed with an uneven varnish that simulates 30 years of age. In each painting, a network of colored lines loop and intersect to suggest expressionist paintings of constructivist sculpture. It’s Kennaugh’s best work to date, synthesizing a medley of half-recalled styles of modern painting into something new which feels old.

Michael Kennaugh, Wigwam, 2002 ...oil on canvas, 100

Making marks on raw canvas is for people who either don’t make mistakes, or don’t care if they do, because every speck, hesitation, and repair will show clearly in the finished product. That’s the curious contradiction in Kennaugh’s paintings: the abstract painters Kennaugh’s work recalls were mess-makers, relishing the irrevocable gesture for its genuine immediacy; Kennaugh is a planner, laying each dry-brushed line according to a detailed, lightly penciled plan which is clearly visible on the canvas. Each painting has a corresponding preparatory drawing that is also on display, allowing us to trace Kennaugh’s process as he translates small drawings into large paintings. The two are not identical; something more than mere tracing is going on. The paintings are better: lighter, more open, more subtle. they’re also stiffer. Enlargement gives them a starchy mechanical quality which helps control Kennaugh’s fondness for painterly pathos.

Michael Kennaugh, Trine, 2002 ...oil on canvas 54

When I was in college, I drove a 1962 Dodge Dart. It looked like a rocket ship and drove like a tank. A relic of an expansive, confident, wasteful era, its dated extravagance was its virtue. Haven recalls that era, saturated in the aura of earnest, mid-century abstraction. Not that Kennaugh’s paintings could have been made in 1962. There’s no awkwardness: Kennaugh goes straight for his target, hitting it unerringly with the perfect aim of hindsight. The new work in Haven is mannered, but with an honesty which makes it easy to forgive mannerism and simply enjoy. Most contemporary painting is mannered; if you haven”t heard, painting died in the late 70’s and everything since must necessarily be a revival of something older. Prieto=Frankenthaler, Halley=Mondrian, Parazette=Lichtenstein, Essenhigh=Beardsley, etc…. If mannerism damns Kennaugh, he’s damned with the rest of us. What’s hard to swallow is his sincerity.

Images are courtesy the artist and Moody Gallery.

Bill Davenport is an artist and writer and was one of the first contributors to Glasstire.

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