Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Susan Christian’s art at Harlequin

"Slipping Between" monoprint with accidental shoptowel, 24" x 20", 1998
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I like Susan Christian a lot, and I have since first meeting her in 1988 or ’89, but I have not always liked her art. In the early days of our acquaintance, what I saw of her work was primarily variations on a scene of a single mountain viewed from a distance across water. Just as Cezanne exhausted his view of Mont Sainte-Victoire, Susan exhausted her view of this mountain overlooking the Salish Sea.

installation view, photo by Alec Clayton

"Tripartite Oyster Bay," pastel 48" x 18" 2001, photo by Susan Christian
Now, 30 years later, she is showing some of those same pictures in the lobby of the State Theater in conjunction with their performance of The Highest Tide, the play from the Jim Lynch novel adapted for the stage by Jane Jones. And now I really love those pictures. The pictures haven’t changed; my ability to see them has. Back then, I thought them rather bland; now I see that they are deceptively simple―refreshingly and boldly reductive, painted with a sure touch and depicting mystery, majesty and barely contained energy.

New painting, "The Highest Tide," acrylic on canvas, approx. 86" x 38", photo by Susan Christian
In the many prints in the lobby, the mountain hovers just as Mt. Rainier sometimes appears to hover above the clouds. It stands at the horizon. It floats on the water or rises from the water.

They are not all of the same mountain. There’s one mono print called “Reading Your Dreams” that looks like a snow drift with a couple of mountain-peak-shaped black lines and a blue sky filled with large white dots―an abstract interpretation of the excitement of wind and cold while skiing or snowboarding (possibly, up to the viewer to interpret).

Opening reception, photo by Lynette Charters Serembe
There are two larger pictures in the box office. “Tripartite Oyster Bay” is a pastel depicting the deep blue waters of Puget Sound as seen from either a deck or a pier overlooking the sound with a mountain range in the distance. Susan lives on the water, and the scene is probably from her home. The picture is divided by a central light section that breaks the composition into three roughly equal sections with the pier jutting out at harsh angles. The blue of the water is rich and glowing, and in the section on the left looks like windowpanes between each section of the railing. It is a beautiful and sparkling painting.

The other painting in the box office is a large work in acrylic on canvas that was done specifically for this show. In a vast field of dark and stormy blue a small group of jagged red, orange and lighter blue marks create a concentrated explosion of something like lightning on the water. This is the power and the majesty of Puget Sound made palpable in abstract painting.

Although all but one of the artworks in this show were done more than three decades ago and about 20 years before Lynch’s book was published, they are the absolute perfect illustrations for the book and play.

Susan Christian will give a talk in the lobby following the Sunday matinee March 15. Free to everyone.

When the box office is open, noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and prior to performances, 1:30-2 p.m. Sunday and 7-7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through March 21
State Theater, 202 4th Ave East, Olympia, WA 98501
Art exhibit free. Performance $36, senior, military $34, student, youth under 25 $20
360.786.0151, http://www.harlequinproductions.org

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