Love Letter to Alicia McCarthy

Two wobbly rainbow-arc objects totter imperfectly and intersect, hold each other up. One is colored with darker shades and the other lighter. All against a soft beige canvas, littered with scratches and splatters and marks.
Alicia McCarthy, Untitled, 2019. Gouache, spray paint, and house paint on panel. 48 x 48 inches.

Alicia McCarthy excavates a culture (a painting practice) saturated by eco-social particulars. Her warbled grids, waves, and occasional horizons follow the weathered and earthly logic of the found surfaces she builds them on. There is a beach beneath the streets—there is transcendence in the soil hiding below our paved, urbane habitat. 

Her light beams are subject to gravity like the rest of us: they kiss; change color, direction, and desire: perform. In pushing through the atoms of physical space, McCarthy’s lines make an alternative reality in this world feel possible.

Alli Warren, writing four towns north of Alicia’s studio:

People say the light is different in California but I’ve been
here all my life
People say you can measure the size of raindrops by
examining the colors in a rainbow but I’ve never tried
I carry my symptoms to the pole past the metropole,
waist deep in marsh muck.

Wading into marsh is the opposite of escape—sink deeper. Submerged-ness and in-ness are necessary when building culture, and what one is in feels important. Warren in the marsh that abuts the East Bay, McCarthy in the streets that provide structures for her painted cosmology that accounts for the left-behind: objects, cities, feelings, humans lives, human desires.

Alicia McCarthy paints a world where the costs of existing and feeling are borne on the plane of existence and in the present. No, the rainbows in such a place are not perfect semi-circles; but I believe that her lopsided arcs are the real shape of light.

Author: Johnny Capetta

Johnny is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Seawitches, the Brooklyn Rail, Hakai Magazine, Maine the Way, and other outlets. They are the co-founder of Benny's Club, a queer and BIPOC centered surf collective, and self publish a small zine called Sunburn.