Painting as Shorthand: the lawn chair sculptures of Patrick McDonough

Patrick McDonough’s lawn chairs are not meant for sitting. And if they begin to seem functional, well, it’s all pretend. The sculptures offer the formal concepts of lawn chairs without actually closing the deal -- legs and armrests have gone missing, for starters, and the works themselves are decidedly non functional. Instead of functionality McDonough is interested in their allusions to an American iconography of leisure. Take a look at them and it’s not difficult to imagine the smell of freshly cut grass or the skyward boom of summertime fireworks. It’s part of what the artist describes as his overarching interest in the aesthetics of free time. But there’s something else that’s also at work here; each piece has a significant stake in pure color, in hard edged geometry, and in the rectangular chromatic plane. You won’t need to dig too deep before you start thinking of abstract painting. - Matthew Smith, Washington, D.C. Contributor

Patrick McDonough| 122909-lawn chair, Wood, Paint, Outdoor Furniture Fabric, Hardware 

Patrick McDonough | 122809-lawn chair, Wood, Paint, Outdoor Furniture Fabric, Hardware 
Patrick McDonough|  120310-lawn chair, Wood, Paint, Outdoor Furniture Fabric, Hardware

If there’s a reference to painting it’s not intentional. That’s what Patrick told me when I visited his studio earlier this year. But let your mind wander for a bit. Think about Cheryl Donegan’s and Michelle Grabner’s gingham paintings. There’s a rather defined optical structure that is also at play in Patrick’s lawn chair sculptures. And there are shared conceptual interests too -- an interest in the domestic, for one, and in the decorative encroaching the functional encroaching the gallery.

When viewing Patrick’s work I also like to think of Laura Aldridge’s series Underside, backside, inside, even. I think I ultimately come to understand Aldridge’s fabric sculptures, at least partly, via their oblique relationship to two-dimensional abstraction, even if that was not the artist’s primary concern. Something similar happens when I look at Patrick’s sculptures.

“Painting often functions as the shorthand to talk about art with a capital ‘A,’ so it’s really nice when these lawn chairs can relate so explicitly to painting,” Patrick told me in his studio. “When I was making the chairs I was thinking more broadly of aesthetic issues and not particularly as a way to reference painting. But yeah, it’s an object on the wall. And it’s like an icon that you have to click through to get to the rest of ‘Art’. And that’s true for beginning collectors or for critical dialogue. It just continues to be the case.”

Patrick McDonough| 123009-lawn chair, Wood, Paint, Outdoor Furniture Fabric, Hardware
Patrick McDonough | 120210-lawn chair, Wood, Paint, Outdoor Furniture Fabric, Hardware; 76" by 27" by 27" 



Matthew Smith is an artist and writer in Washington, D.C.



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