Architecture of Doom

Conor McGrady draws homes. Row houses. Apartment buildings. Individual tract homes.

But instead of the comfort and security synonymous with home, in his images there is only desolation.

In McGrady's neighborhoods, the streets are empty and every window is black, devoid of the warming light of human occupancy.

Drawn in charcoal or painted in gouache, the landscape is devoid of detail, like the black and gray lines of a coloring book. The buildings take on an alien, skeletal appearance. There is the implication of recent apocalypse or an economic blight so profound, it has rendered neighborhoods urban wastelands. Nothing good could possibly have befallen the buildings' occupants.

And by the time you move around his show at Saltworks Gallery, that certainty is solidified in paintings like "Constable." The use of that old-fashioned term is poisoned with dark irony when you consider the constable's outfit: riot gear helmet and Plexiglas visor, a wool cap that hides his features, and a machine gun held at his side. McGrady's cop is clearly not doling out speeding tickets or arresting robbers, but preparing for more violent battle.

McGrady was born and grew up in violence-riddled Northern Ireland, and he draws the architecture of his homeland from memory. His work treats the place of his birth like a chalk outline: the damning circle drawn around a crime scene. The work conveys the hopelessness of architecture that places function and social control before humanity - and the implication of being caged in the most minimally adequate containers.

But McGrady's drawings are not just a commentary on his violence-plagued home. They are about architecture and how the places we build can become prophetic, allowing us to thrive, or in McGrady's case, despair. Give human beings a dismal, despairing place to live, and we should be able to guess the outcome.

Felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.comA New Order: Works by Conor McGrady, through March 26 at Saltworks Gallery, 635 Angier Ave. Tues.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. 404-876-8000. www.saltworksgallery.com.??

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