Oil on canvas
43.25 x 59 x 1.5 in.
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
Though his painting is always multivalent in its associations, Robert McChesney, like most West Coast abstract expressionists, found inspiration in the sensory experience of natural surroundings—either in his rustic Sonoma Mountain home in Northern California, where he lived most of his life, or on frequent trips to Nevada, the Southwest, and Mexico. The San Francisco painter and sculptor Clay Spohn might have been speaking for McChesney when he observed that nature could be a rich and meaningful subject as long as the artist filtered it through his imagination and dealt only with “living abstract elements . . . those elusive things such as atmosphere, space, or relationships that cannot be pinned down or measured.”
McChesney’s painting Mexico B14, which he produced while maintaining a studio in the Mexican coastal town of Ajijic, conveys a strong feeling for the intangibles of nature. By soaking oil paint into unsized canvas—a process similar to Helen Frankenthaler’s subsequent staining technique—McChesney achieved an abstract corollary to the shimmering heat of the desert. Critic Alfred Frankenstein admired works such as this for their effect of “flux and light, with lone black lines moving like rivers through coloristic cloud pools, lending form to their ow, and carrying it outward beyond the confines of the frame.” The suggestion of movement beyond the canvas was characteristic of the San Francisco school, most notably in the expansive thrusts of Clyfford Still, who refused to allow his paintings to be contained within framing edges, calling them “Euclidean prisons” in protest against the science and technology that made possible the atomic bomb.
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