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Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see. Paul Klee

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McCleary, Mary - VM - Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker

Mary McCleary: Icarus

This is our God

by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker

What is God like? Can we know him? What are his ways like? If we know one thing for sure, it is that lowly humans like us will never be able to fathom the awesome and mysterious nature of our Creator and heavenly Father. Happily the Bible lifts a corner of the veil via stories, metaphors and theological exposés.

In the account of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3 for instance we first of all become aware of God’s holiness: “Come no closer!” For this God of glory it is fitting to take off our shoes and cover our faces. But then he comes close to us. He has descended to deliver his people. He calls himself “I am who I am” and “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” God is a God who defines himself in relation to us human beings as a God who will always be near to us.

These two sides of God are also incorporated in the collage-painting Icarus by Mary McCleary. Her collages are made up of all kinds of materials like pieces of paper, glass, wood, beads and small toy puppets. As in the work above there is a pattern of doll eyes recurring as a feature in her works for many years. They stand for God’s grandeur and his all-seeing omnipresence.

In the artwork we also see Icarus tumbling down from the sky. A second later he will be swallowed up by the sea. Icarus and his father Daedalus, a legendary artisan from Athens, were imprisoned on the island of Crete. In order to escape Daedalus made a pair of wings for both of them, which they attached to their shoulders with wax. “Stick to the middle,” Daedalus advised his son, “because when you fly too low the waves will make the feathers moist and heavy, but when you fly too high, the sun will scorch them.” But Icarus flew upwards to the sun. The wax melted, his wings came loose and he fell into the sea.

Perhaps you know the famous painting of Icarus attributed to Bruegel the Elder? When you look very closely, you can see the legs of a tiny Icarus disappearing into the water at the lower right of the picture. No one in the painting pays any attention to it. But here in Mary McCleary’s work the focus is on Icarus. And he does not go unnoticed, as God sees him fall. His hubris is known to God.

But then, at the bottom left of the collage, we see the railing of the ship that arrives at the scene just in time to pick him out of the water.

This is our God.

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Mary McCleary: Icarus, 1999, mixed media collage on paper, 100 x 150 cm.

Mary McCleary is Regent's Professor of Art Emeritus at Stephen F. Austin State University, where she taught from 1975 to 2005. Born in Houston, Texas in 1951, she received her BFA, cum laude in printmaking/drawing at Texas Christian University and her MFA in graphics from the University of Oklahoma. Since 1970 she has participated in over 250 one person and group exhibits in museums and galleries in 24 states, Mexico, and Russia. Mary McCleary was named ‘Texas Artist of the Year’ for 2011 by the Art League of Houston. McCleary’s work is in many public collections. See www.marymccleary.com.

Artist Statement: ‘I made my first 3-D collage 26 years ago. Since that time my work has grown in size, complexity and meaning. The collages are made by attaching layer upon layer of materials such as paint, paper, rag board, foil, glitter, sticks, wire, mirrors, pencils, nails, glass, painted toothpicks, string, leather, lint, small plastic toys and other objects on heavy paper, much in the way a painter builds layer upon layer of paint on canvas. Often these materials are used symbolically. My aim is that the obsessive images that result from this method of working convey an intensity which the viewer finds compelling. I am interested in the spatial complexity and visual tensions that come from the collages being illusionistic, while at the same time composed of three-dimensional objects that often retain their own identity. Drawing my subject matter from history and literature, I like the irony of using materials that are often trivial, foolish, and temporal to express ideas of what is significant, timeless, and transcendent.’

Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker is ArtWay’s editor-in-chief.

ArtWay Visual Meditation 17 June 2018