Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bare-bones painting

Break O' Day" A painting by Susan Christian 
on display at Childhood's End Gallery. 
Photo courtesy Childhood's End Gallery

Susan Christian at Childhood’s End Gallery
The Weekly Volcano, July 6, 2011
I've been keeping up with Susan Christian's career for more than 20 years, and during that time I have watched her art change so gradually that it's like watching a mountain grow. I think she has finally reached her maturity as a painter. Her latest works - simple, bare-bones, abstract paintings of doorways and windows and corners of starkly empty rooms - are by far the best I have seen from her yet. They are now on display, along with brass and copper sculptures by Ron Hinton, at Childhood's End Gallery.

Also on display from Christian are a number of other paintings of curtains from a couple years back - odd little paintings of edges of curtains, some placed at extreme distances on either end of absurdly long canvases and others in conjunction with, in one painting, a pair of cut-off legs, and in another a window opened to a view of a black sea and a peach colored sky. These two are the best of the curtain paintings. The long paintings with so much space between the curtains are uncomfortable to look at because the viewer is forced to mentally connect objects that are too far apart in the painting to be part of a single composition. I don't know if that is the intention or not, but it doesn't work for me.

But the sparse interior scenes of windows and doors work wonderfully. They affect me in the way of an Edward Hopper painting or an Adolph Gottlieb or a Barnett Newman. They are minimalist to an extreme, in some cases no more than two flat rectangles centered in white space. But they offer mystery, a sense of deep spirituality, a playfulness of spatial relationships and a consummate artist's sensitivity to paint handling and awareness of edge.

This last quality, awareness of edge, is something I've come to associate with maturity as an artist. It is something artists develop only after years of work, and it's something I seldom saw in Christian's work prior to this latest series of paintings.

"The Upside of Loss" and "The Morning" each picture a flat rectangle that seems to be standing upright on an invisible ground with its shadow or another rectangle of a different color on a different plane jutting outward underneath it. In one of them there is the most subtle of hints of a line indicating the junction of floor and wall, as if the upright rectangle is standing against a wall and its reflection is on the floor. Paint is applied in a variety of ways within the parts of these pictures. Flat here, brushy there, scumbled and scraped in one area and liquid and mottled in another area.

"The Wound" and "Chagrin D'Amour" are pictures of partially opened doorways painted on dark backgrounds with hints of reflections as if they are standing on glass. These are portals to nowhere, mysterious doorways to infinity afloat in space. In these paintings the colors are darker and slightly heavier than in the others.

One of the best is "The Squirrel," an abstract painting of a part of a wall and floor with wonderfully scumbled white-on-white paint application.

The variations of hue and value, and contrasts of paint application and edge are so subtle in these paintings that they have to be seen in person and studied carefully to be appreciated.

Ron Hinton's sculptures are small etched brass and copper pieces with angular planes of metal and decorative surface etchings. They are well constructed but seem to me like studies rather than finished work. They look like they should be much larger and the surface decoration, while interesting in itself, seems superfluous.

through July 24, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday–Saturday
11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday
Childhood’s End Gallery
222 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia

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