Alexandra McGovern

There is something delicate and insistently contrary about Alexandra McGovern’s paintings of sky and fog, of night highways and moody shores. Intending to paint landscapes, she finds herself in the in-between spaces, what she calls “pauses in the action,” the space comprised of “mostly air.” In cultural geography, space is an objectively demarcated area; place, a location that also holds subjective information. That is, space might be atmosphere, and place might hold a story (many, in fact). When we see fog, our perception of its boundaries is based on the place of our own bodies: it moves around us in permeable haziness that slows our vision. Clouds are shapeshifters, bound to light and moisture, presentiments of weather. And McGovern’s paintings of clouds revel in their weirdness: what else can meander so neatly from fluffy to comical to foreboding to sublime?

If we were to describe the space between places, we might lean on the facts of a voyage—how long it took, how stressful the departure felt, the inconveniences of transit. We so rarely describe what we see out the plane window, or through the car’s headlights on a desolate patch of road. This narrative emptiness of transit is not only an antihero in our relentless movement, but a stubborn un-nameable thing, in which we actually spend a significant amount of time. Think of the shoreline, particularly that point where the water meets sand. That point is plural, constantly shifting, subject to the tides and rhythms of nature and humans: the point of meeting is unstable, not easily marked, can never be exactly recalled. In contrast, the beach itself is the place that is named and remembered. Or: think of the way the headlights of a vehicle cast beams of light into the blackness, and how the stripes of the road blur beneath us. The destination is the point on which we concentrate, perhaps briefly noting a road stop of interest. The point of contact between light and road, like the shoreline, is also impossible to mark, subject to our hurtling velocity. We rush to forget it, to get where we’re going, to do something more productive.

What McGovern’s paintings study is that point of intangible contact, something at once entirely subjective and intransigently resistant to narrative, spaces in which we spend so much of our lives: these are the spaces of poetry, of forgotten hours, of hazy ambiguities, of rest, of boredom. And her canvases, giving that shifting impossible nowhere all the power of painting, insist that it is, still, somewhere, something, and worth a closer look.

Laura Augusta, PhD

Curator, Rubin Center for the Visual Arts

University of Texas at El Paso