pt.2 Gallery is pleased to present Dreaming with Eyes Wide Open, Oakland based painter Wardell McNeal’s second exhibition with the gallery. McNeal creates metaphysical landscapes populated by sculpted figures and organic forms, intersecting fields of brushy colors and verdant pops of plant life interspersed.  Whereas the artist’s previous exhibition came during the height of the pandemic, serving as a reflection on how we deal with loss both personally and culturally, Dreaming with Eyes Wide Open speaks to our present moment as we emerge from the chrysalis of isolation and embrace the growth and rebirth taking place all around. 

McNeal’s paintings are defined by the artist’s distinctive style, using acrylic on canvas to create lush works that radiate color and form.  The works clearly revolve around the figures held within, however the boundaries between figure, foreground and background often feel like a fluid dance. Hands and faces emerge unexpectedly out of pools of blue or from behind planes of purple and orange, quadrants of yellow morph into the lilac section of a figure’s hat. Each color placed within the artist’s composition is layered through drybrushing, so a green is never simply just that color but a composite of layers of yellow, turquoise, blue and others, thereby creating a depth of color and surface that serves to push space back and forth within the paintings. Executed with an effortless cool, McNeal’s paintings exhibit a mastery of color, incorporating a wide ranging grouping of hues, McNeal is able to push space back and forth, drawing our eye around the canvas through nuanced variegated tones. 

The figures within Dreaming with Eyes Wide Open, much like their backgrounds, are composed of separated shapes that work to compose a greater whole. Donut shaped eyes with cavernous centers stand in for eyes, large crescents meet to create mouths and noses are rounded yet distilled to their simplest parts, yet despite their stylization McNeal's characters are draped with emotion and sensitivity, highly sculptural in their construction yet entirely empathetic. The figures carry a sense of wonderment and awe for the world around them, the intermittent placement of two vases containing single daisies, or a dandelion releasing its feathery seeds are met with enrapt fascination.

This plant life and perhaps more importantly what it represents, the renewal of the world around us as we reemerge resonates deeply within McNeal’s latest body of work. Latent energy that has been sequestered for years is just now finding release, ushering in a vitality and beauty that should be embraced and celebrated, if only we take the time as these figures do, to let it wash over us. —Nick Makanna