Mary McCleary (b. 1951, Houston, Texas) builds intimate pictures out of otherwise unremarkable stuff: paper, foil, string, wire, beads, typed text, painted sticks, glitter, leather, small plastic toys, and other objects she finds around the house or in the street. Each of her works depicts a mundane scene, perhaps a vase of flowers, a woman smoking, or an airplane at a departure gate. The ordinariness of McCleary’s materials and imagery belies the dread that runs just beneath the surface. That’s where the often paralyzing anxiety of trying to hold it all together—metaphorically and existentially—percolates and burbles. The sense that something is about to go very, very wrong is palpable, cinematic, and disquieting. But it’s counteracted by the sense that something bad has already happened—that the people in her pictures are living in the aftermath of some tragedy, making do and moving on. Vulnerability and empathy come to the forefront, giving us the opportunity to think about the benefits and limits of knowledge, as well as the pitfalls of miscommunication and the deadliness of silence.

View Works

Read Essays