Self-portrait
1978, graphite with smudging and erasing on ivory wove paper. 19 x 25 inches. The Jalane and Richard Davidson Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Mystery Series #8 (detail)
1988, oil on canvas. 60 x 48 inches. Private collection.
Man in Plastic Bag #6 (detail)
1995, graphite powder and pencil on paper. 25½ x 20 inches. Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of F. Steven Kijek. Photo © Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Unicorn #1
1995, oil on canvas. 48 x 60 inches. Collection of Brandon Webster.
Movement Series #7 (detail)
1980, graphite on rag paper. 23 x29 inches. Private collection.
Exotic Bloom Series #12
2004, oil on canvas. 18 x 24 inches. Collection of the District of Columbia, John A. Wilson Building, Washington, DC.
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No matter how she appears in her works, Cleary demonstrates an ability to be, as the existentialists call it, “a voyeur of the self.” On the simplest level, this reflects her method—setting up a camera with shutter delay and variable exposures, assuming a posture and allowing that photo to structure a drawing. On another level, this objectivity leads to a reckoning with universal form—the human body as a mannerist, contrapposto letter S (a Caravaggio trick) or as an homage to the sfumato technique by which smoky light defines curves.