The post-apocalyptic narrative is a defining feature of our age, a way for us to process our unease over economic instability, increasing political polarization, and irreversible climate change. Doomsday scenarios appear in our books, TV shows, and movies, playing out thrillingly dark fantasies of life after cataclysm. Artist Siobhan McClure, however, is more interested in imagining the opportunity in a slate wiped clean, or “the possibility inherent within reorder,” as the press release for her new show notes.
The heroes of McClure’s paintings are orphaned children. Guileless but industrious, and determined to survive in the aftermath of large-scale disaster, they employ whatever tools they can—hammers, nails, and rope, but also doll parts, teddy bears, and string—to build new infrastructures and systems amid the ruins of a flooded metropolis. McClure’s is emphatically not an epic of reconstruction and restoration, of return to the status quo ante, but the genesis story of a society based on cooperation and altruism. The children are unsupervised, but organized. Uniformed in primary-colored pinafores or shorts and t-shirts, bandanas tied around their necks, they’re feral scouts. They co-exist closely and peacefully with the animals—dogs and cats, birds, rats, and fish—and vegetation creeps over the remains of the city, suggesting a more harmonious relationship with nature than our own.
McClure’s solo exhibition “In the Time of Water,” on view at Los Angeles gallery 101/exhibit, continues the story she began in a previous series with new oil paintings on canvas, along with watercolor and gouache works on paper. The latter are muted vignettes, isolating moments, and objects from the greater epic. Her oil paintings find the children in a flooded city rendered in sharp one-point perspective, a visual pun on the dual meanings (optical and philosophical) of “point-of-view,” hinting at a theme of her work and suggesting the flaw that led to collapse. “[W]e live in a world of multiple points of view,” says McClure, “yet often operate as if there was only one.”