|“The Date” by Susan Christian, courtesy of Salon Refu
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Susan Christian’s Sticks at Salon Refu
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 19, 2015
Susan Christian paints patterns on sticks, and then she props them against walls or lays them on floors or puts them together in relatively rectangular shapes and hangs them like traditional modernist paintings. She’s even been known to take photos of them lodged among branches in trees. To some people, that may seem simplistic and childish, and perhaps it is; or perhaps it is as radical as when Duchamp bought a urinal and entered it in an art exhibition under the title “Fountain,” or as radical as when Frank Stella started making paintings in odd geometric shapes.
Christian’s first public showing of her stick paintings were at Batdorf & Bronson’s Coffee House in Olympia last April. Now she is showing a few of the paintings from that show plus many more in her own gallery, Salon Refu.
I have to quote from the “artist’s statement” from this show. It’s too good not to: “In the summer of 2013 I went to a plein-air painting workshop taught by Helen O’Toole in Kathy Gore-Fuss’s garden. I love these workshops, though I don’t do plein-air painting. On the first morning, as I sat there not painting anything, Kathy handed me a little foot-long stick. I painted the stick white. Then I painted a red line on it. Then I went hunting for another stick, and so on.” There’s a little painting in her current show called “Bird” that fits that description. There’s a little red splinter of wood partially broken off along the top edge that looks dangerous. It also looks like a feather. I wonder if it could be the one that started it all.
One of the things that keeps her sticks from being too outlandish (art should always be at least a little outlandish) is that the patterns she paints on them are almost classically balanced with carefully chosen color combinations, but in many of them some little something is skewed — not quite fitting with the regularity of the patterns. It’s as if the artist makes a mistake on purpose to prove she’s human.
For instance, “Sail” is made of 13 horizontal strips of lattice glued together in a rectangular configuration. They are painted with subtle variations of gray-blue and a dull yellow. One strip slightly above center is darker than the others, and evenly spaced across its width are black dots. And then way up at the top and slightly off center is one more black dot that seems to have escaped from the chorus line of dots in the center.
Many of the patterns she paints are diagonals or zig-zags that overlap or repeat in nuanced ways that lend the pieces both unity and variety of form.
“Maesta,” is a long horizontal painted in soft of gray with a purple tint and — all modulated and restful. And then it is disrupted by two square blocks of wood stuck on with heavy globs of paint.
In one of the front windows stands a curtain-like array of painted vertical strips of wood, and along one wall a group of arched sticks like tightly drawn bows, mostly yellow, braced between the floor and ceiling. One gets the feeling they might spring loose and go shooting across the gallery at any moment. High on another wall hangs a heavy piece called “Sebago Lake” that looks like a crosscut saw. The radical positioning of this one resonates and contrasts with another stick that lies on the floor against the opposite wall.
Most of her works are horizontally oriented. One vertical piece called “Tall” with an emphatic blue line down the middle looks more like sculpture than painting, even though it hangs against the wall.
I can imagine people thinking this show is playful, insubstantial, and not very serious. But that playful, what-the-heck aspect is deceptive. This is art of a high order.
Susan Christian at Salon Refu, Thursday-Sunday 2-6 p.m., and by appointment. Through Nov. 28, closed Thanksgiving, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia, firstname.lastname@example.org.