Deirdre McAdams's ghostly images recall art's past

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      Deirdre McAdams: open book
      At CSA Space until December 14

      A sweet ghostliness permeates Open Book, a small show of abstract paintings by Vancouver artist Deirdre McAdams. It’s as if these modestly scaled works, most of them executed with spray paint on canvas using improvised stencils of one kind or another, were calling up the spectres of abstraction past.

      Planes build upon planes and scribbly ribbons of colour inhabit ambiguous interior spaces. Many of McAdams’s paintings mimic the strategies of hard-edge or minimalist painting. However, where artists of the 1960s used spray guns, masking tape, precise lines, and geometric forms to create the appearance of an industrial surface, stripped of all evidence of brush work, McAdams instills her paintings with a quirky individuality. Her paint surface is not thick and uniform but thin, dappled, and speckled, and her forms are not rigidly geometric but a bit skewed, with rounded edges, and torn corners. And her use of spray paint and stencils is less industrial than graffitilike in its formal effects.

      This body of work represents a shift away from McAdams’s previous paintings, which on the whole are more emphatic and brightly hued. Again, there’s a vapour-ish or ghostly quality here, along with a low-keyed palette. Rather than “pure” abstractions, likenesses and evocations play across each piece. In Tattoo Painting, a form suggestive of a cross or sword floats in front of a quartet of subtly overlapping planes. Irrespective of the title, this work is reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe at her most reductive. It’s easy to read O’Keeffe’s New Mexico—tall cactus and hand-patted adobe walls—into this appealing composition.

      Architectonic forms also suggest themselves in other works. Monologue, rendered in an odd palette of dark blue-green, purple, buff, and grey, resembles a succession of steps flanked by pillars and ending with a lintel over a mysterious portal. Inscription evokes tombstones and human figures, while Stone Tablet (with detail) might depict handheld digital devices perversely sculpted in grey stone.

      In a 2012 interview with a local website, McAdams revealed that in some of her paintings, her composition and references are preplanned. She is happy, too, she said, to create work that is “free of any kind of meaning or association”, in which case, we viewers may assign our own—or not.