Sarah McEneaney at Tibor de Nagy

Throughout Sarah McEneaney’s modest-sized egg tempera paintings at Tibor de Nagy, we find a singular tourist: a middle-aged woman in water shoes, a bike helmet, rectangular glasses, sketchbook in hand, often surrounded by cats.  Her sunny landscapes and idyllic country living rooms throw a brightly-colored wrench into all standards of reticent, high art taste. - Whitney Kimball, NYC Contributor

Sarah McEneaney | Baseball, 2010, egg tempera on wood, 33.5 x 33.5 inches, Photo courtesy of artnet

McEneaney’s panel paintings continue in a vein of several years, depicting trips with friends and domestic life through many painstaking layers of tiny brushstrokes.  Immediately across from the gallery’s entryway, we find a diamond-shaped panel containing a vibrant baseball stadium, the backs of three female heads peering down from its bottom corner.  The green field in Baseball is manicured down to abstraction, the crowd a sea of tiny dots, as though painted by an extremely diligent child; the glowing depiction of sports is arresting-- even off-putting-- in a New York gallery.

Sea and snowscapes span beneath blue skies and starry nights with full moons; often, as in as Brittany France and Boca Chica Key, FL, her tiny figure is enveloped by sweeping plains. Subjects often come in pairs: two bare feet curled up in a river, two sleeping bags under the vast night sky, two friends floating belly-up in the ocean.  Even in the unpopulated cityscape Future Vine Street, things are organized, and clean.

Critics often note that these appear to be pictures of interior calm.  This becomes immediately apparent in Davensberg Birthday, in which a towel-clad McEneaney stands at the edge of a wooden veranda, beholding a snowy landscape beneath the full moon; her arms are tucked forward, prayer-like, as though she’s finally reached her mecca.

Sarah McEneaney | Davensberg Birthday, 2010, egg tempera on wood, 11 5/8 x 20 1/4 inchesPhoto courtesy of Tibor de Nagy

In four close-up self portraits, McEneaney poses a little comically, as though for vacation snapshots.  Two views of the artist wearing a goofy grin are nearly identical, except that one is an egg tempera painting and the other a wood block print.  They’re self-loving, but not narcissistic; the fascination seems not with the image, but with the complexity of a living, human skull.  Instead of shouting, “it’s great to be me,” the multi-layered, sketchy heads agree, simply: “it’s great to be alive.”

Sarah McEneaney | North Truro Porch, egg tempera on wood, 11 5/8 x 12 ¾, Photo courtesy of Tibor d Nagy

Such a rosy version of the world might be dismissed as naïve, but McEneaney’s sublime works inside a long tradition of painting; they specifically mirror the inner peace that Georgia O’Keeffe found in her later years in New Mexico.  They’re thoroughly wholesome, but deeply sincere.  McEneaney is here, bike helmet and all, to remind us that while some choose to mimic a foreign language, others will continue to speak their own.

"New Works" is on view at Tibor de Nagy through March 10th.


Sarah McEneaney's work has been in many museum exhibitions throughout the United States and in Europe including over the last two years at the Delaware Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Walton Arts Center, Art Museum, Rhode Island School of Design, and Kunstmuseum, Ahlen, Germany. McEneaney received a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and studied at Philadelphia College of the Arts. 

McEneaney has had numerous solo gallery exhibitions both in New York and Philadelphia, where she has lived and worked for many years. Her work was the subject of a major retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art ICA at University of Pennsylvania in 2004. In 2012 the City of Philadelphia will unveil a commission by the artist, a composite landscape of Philadelphia’s parks, which will be installed in its new Youth Study Center.

Whitney Kimball is a New York-based painter and art writer. 

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