‘The location-painting-plus-neons that Weatherford saw as conveying narratives of everyday life related to her time in New York in the ’80s - Varick St. was stepping onto the street in the morning.’ – Maxwell Williams
‘When I had the idea about the lights two years ago, I realized that it was a way to make a painting about the city and about the 20th century. It’s electricity. It’s Modernism.’ – Mary Weatherford
Invoking the clamour and delirium of New York City’s downtown, Mary Weatherford’s Varick St., 2012, is a collision of bold, emotive brushwork. To the canvas Weatherford has attached a single, slim neon tube, which emanates a vivid white light. Weatherford’s use of Flashe, a vinyl-based paint, offers a variety of nuanced textures when illuminated by the neon glow. Layering semi-transparent greys with navy, lilac, and splashes of golden orange, Varick St. presents a pictorial topography of chromatic and sensorial resonance. Weatherford’s canvases are the embodiment of geography in paint, sites that are significant to her either personally or culturally. The artist lived in New York between 1984 and 1999, and Varick St. captures the blend of speeding cars, grids of scaffolding, and architectural verticality of the eponymous street: ‘I wanted to make urban paintings. I wanted to make paintings about people’s lives’ (M. Weatherford, ‘Lewis Center for the Arts Alumni POV: Mary Weatherford ‘84’, video, Princeton University, May 21, 2018). Beginning with her series of California settings, for nearly a decade, Weatherford’s work has been an ongoing investigation of site as source material. Subjects have included East Los Angeles’ Whittier Boulevard, the waves at Pismo Beach, and Coney Island. ‘The works,’ Weatherford explains, are ‘about what’s going on in the peripheral vision. It’s motion’ (M. Weatherford quoted in C. Miranda, ‘Artist’s Noble Pursuit’, Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2017, p. F6). Inspired by southern California’s strip malls, Weatherford began incorporating neon elements in 2012. The artist purposefully exposes the structural support of the neon, a deliberate gesture towards the spidery wall sculptures of Eva Hesse. The physicality of the light is engulfing, creating what critic Maxwell Williams has described as ‘a push-and-pull with the viewer’s attention, at times drawing the eye towards it, and at other times disappearing into a negative space that frames the paintings underneath, highlighting the canvas’ (M. Williams, ‘Mary Weatherford: L.A. Confdential’, Art in America, May 16, 2014). In a similar manner to the animated and dazzling streets of New York City, Varick St. is outwardly sweeping and all-embracing, the neon’s radiance echoing the city’s skyline sparkle. In Varick St., Weatherford arrests a sensation, the blur of light, the allure and excitement of the city and all its magnetic possibility.