Earl McBride, “I Used to be a Rainbow” at Richard Levy Gallery

“^,” 2016, Earl McBride, oil, graphite, wax crayon, enamel on panel
48 1/2 x 36 inches. Photo: courtesy of Richard Levy Gallery

Earl McBride shows his true colors in I Used To Be A Rainbow, an exhibition of recent abstract paintings on view at Richard Levy Gallery. McBride’s use of materials, expressionistic mark-making, and choice of colors are all strong compositional players in this selection of works that make direct reference to his personal narrative without resorting to overt representation. His paintings are bold and enticing, a literal, physical mash-up of forms. Heavy, thick layers of high-chroma paint, which he applies gluttonously straight from the tube, result in colorful surface areas that are alive and obese with pigment here, then thinning out or disappearing altogether in places to reveal a layered, sometimes spray-painted, under-painting on panel. His exaggeration of the “fat over lean” painting principle grounds the works firmly in conversation with contemporary practice.

McBride creates most of his imagery through repetition of a specific shape—a point or peak—which signifies his coming out and gender reassignment. Sometimes he gathers these marks together to form a star, or mountain-like form, and other times he connects, stretches, and softens them to create a double arch, typically recognized as the universal symbol of a bird in flight. At 20-by-26 inches, Pink Rhino, could be read as a detail of the larger 48-by-66-inch work Too Much?, which seems to spin like a dust cloud of emotion and energy, giving a hat tip to the use of “POW!” and “WHAM!” and other visual exclamation explosions often seen in cartoons and comic books. In works such as Earl, or another simply titled ^, he arranges the composition into distinct areas of heavy activity, punctuated by opaque white-beige background visually connected by his signature peak symbol, pointing pathways through the frenzy. These separations refer to the dualities that dominate many of the choices imbedded in today’s American culture, including religion, gender, and aesthetics.