Sue Scott Gallery

Tom McGrath, "Blue Ridge by Headlights"

Barbara Pollack
Time Out New York, April 2010

McGrath’s landscapes are more film noir than pastoral.

By Barbara Pollack

Tom McGrath is a voyeur of the landscape, turned on by his own surreptitious intrusion into settings both natural and man-made. In his earlier work, McGrath cleverly depicted highways and accidents as if seen through a rain-streaked windshield. Now, he has turned his gaze to more pastoral settings—the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee and tropical gardens in Miami Beach—while retaining the underlying tension that makes such innocent locales feel like murder scenes.

The more haunting paintings in this exhibition are those of Appalachia, with images of the woods at night lit by headlights, whose reflections on black trees are conveyed with lush strokes of white paint on an indigo background. Rock Pile catches a stack of boulders in the middle of the trees, as if stumbling on a dead body. McGrath’s landscapes are cast in acidic hues of turquoise and ochre, often combined to give the effect of a photographic negative.
In other paintings, McGrath inserts window blinds between the landscape and the viewer, further drawing attention to the act of looking. Yard at Night is probably the strongest in this vein, with bold black lines crossing the canvas, almost obliterating the bright-yellow and emerald-green garden outside the window. But in other works, the horizontal stripes become gimmicky, especially when coupled with merely decorative depictions of palm fronds. Such paintings would fit in nicely at a South Beach bar, but none carry the charge of his spooky wooded scenery.