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Dan McCleary's etchings
Review: Rebecca Ibel Gallery
February 2008
by Kaizaad Kotwal

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© Photos Courtesy of Rebecca Ibel Gallery

Christ After Correggio

A series of etchings by artist Dan McCleary are deceptive in their overt simplicity. While some are detailed and intricate in their use of line and tonality, some are minimalist, seeming more like line drawings than etchings. In this regard, McCleary is forcing us to reconsider the genre of etching which has a varied and impressive history through the annals of art.

McCleary’s etchings, on view at the Rebecca Ibel Gallery in the Short North through the end of February, are all portraits. One could even argue that the series “Five Skulls” fits within the tradition of portraiture, albeit with a slightly macabre and even edgily humorous dimension.

Christ After Correggio is an interesting piece rendering the iconic pose of Christ on the cross with his crown of thorns as an homage to Renaissance master Antonio da Correggio. The detailed line work of the figure’s hair and beard is impressive and the crown of thorns seems almost alive.

Man With Coffee Cup

The tradition of images of Christ goes as far back as the Roman Empire. It is also a highly contested tradition with varying factions arguing the accuracy of such images of Jesus because no one truly knows what he looked like. McCleary posits himself into this miasma with this etching and he does something remarkable. By giving the icon of Christ the visage of an ordinary man, a contemporary human, the artist makes some powerful connections about divinity and the average human being. Or conversely, McCleary reminds us that Jesus was the Everyman of every man.

There are several etchings in the exhibit of ordinary people going about their everyday lives. Here, as McCleary hones in on the commonplace existence of these people, he actually elevates their mundaneness to something quite iconic.


In Man With Coffee Cup the subject seems to be taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the business world. The jacket clues us somewhat into his position in society, and his gaze, away from us and into the depths of his coffee cup, tells us things about his mood and state of mind in simple ways with subtle aesthetic choices. Here McCleary uses a tight, fine cross-hatching technique to replicate the textured fabric of the man’s jacket while the background is looser, more airy, contrasting with the severity of the man’s preoccupations.

The mood in Alice is quite the opposite and even more ambiguous than in Man With Coffee Cup. Here, a young girl with her eyes closed seems to be enjoying a moment or some vision. Perhaps, by closing her eyes, she too is shutting off the outside world. We are left to draw our own conclusions depending on what we read as the emotional map on her face. McCleary uses very gestural strokes in this piece, particularly to depict the girl’s long tresses, giving this etching a feel distinctly different from the tighter feel of the aforementioned work.

Five Skulls, #3

Jesus Bellafon is as minimalist as an etching could get. More like a line drawing, even cartoon-like, McCleary uses the fewest strokes possible to convey a person and his narrative. Akin to the simplicity of Japanese woodcuts, this portrait by McCleary is stark yet very evocative given how little information exists on the surface.

The piece de resistance of the exhibit is the series called “Five Skulls,” which range from the benign to the macabre in their caricatured and emotional resonances. The first two skulls in the series have an almost goofy sweetness to them and the last two take on the familiar tones of Halloween masks.

It is the third skull which is downright frightening. Like some nightmare channeling Hannibal Lecter (from Silence of the Lambs) and the darker realms of S&M, this etching may be small in scale but is gargantuan in the fear factor it evokes.

The entire skull series uses a range of etching techniques and most wonderfully displays McCleary’s use of chiaroscuro.

McCleary will be present at the gallery for an artist’s talk on Friday, February 15, 2008, at 4 p.m.

Dan McCleary: Etchings continues through February 28, 2008, at the Rebecca Ibel Gallery, 1055 N. High St.
For more information call 614-291-2555 or visit

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