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Quiet please: Fergus Feehily at The Suburban

Oct. 20, 2015
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The first thing a visitor may notice about the current exhibition at The Suburban is the space itself. On a bright afternoon, the windows of a former laundromat in Riverwest open the space with light, flooding over a display of particularly quiet, demure art. The gallery is one of the newest in the city, helmed by Michelle Grabner, Brad Killam and Alexander Herzog, who are showing work by Irish artist Fergus Feehily. According to a gallery assistant, the installation is according to the artist’s wishes; there is no text, title or ancillary information. The artist is silent.

There are just a handful of pieces, most hung low on the wall and measuring a foot or less in size. A few are paintings, one is a plastic roundel, one is a framed card with multiple views of a vintage tightrope walker. Their unorthodox placement allows them to be overlooked but simultaneously demands the viewer come closer, down to their level, or lean in close.

A couple of paintings draw from shades of abstract expressionism in deeply hushed tones. One in silvery gray is layered thinly over a support of wood. The pattern of the grain runs in horizontal waves, becoming denser as it nears the bottom of the piece where a corner opens up into pure white. The edges of the paint are ragged and rounded. It is mounted with unaligned nails that pierce the front—they are random, haphazard, like a purposeful stab at the pristine nature of minimalism.

This antagonism with formal tradition and conventional manners of painting is played off in a passive-aggressive way. Feehily’s austerity leaves nearly nothing to behold, but in silence a whisper can be heard loudly if listened to. The exhibition could try your patience if flourishes of outstanding virtuoso technique are your thing. The point seems not to be the art itself but what it can do. It demands a sort of observational stoicism. The works will not necessarily reach out to make the viewer feel anything, but it is the choice of the viewer to respond within attentive stillness.

Through Nov. 1 at The Suburban, 2901 N. Fratney St.

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