Friday, April 10, 2015

Susan Christian’s sticks on the wall

"Caravan" painted stick construction by Susan Christian

Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 9, 2015

I’ve been keeping up with Susan Christian’s art for well over 20 years. The nine little paintings she has on display at Batdorf and Bronson’s flagship coffee house in Olympia are among the best of her works I have ever seen.

"Island View" by Susan Christian.
Here’s the thing about Susan Christian: Based solely on her art, it seems she does whatever she damn well pleases and doesn’t fret over what others might think. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t care what others think; she just doesn’t let it influence her art.
About two years ago she got the idea she wanted to paint sticks, so she got a bunch of sticks and painted them. She asked friends to give her sticks. She bought lathe from lumber yards. So simple; so Susan. Sometimes she painted them solid colors, and sometimes she painted patterns on them. And then she propped them against walls or laid them on the floor or in the grass. She even stuck them in trees and took pictures of them. That was her art, and it was wonderful. Or the idea and the few photos I saw were wonderful. I never saw any of the actual pieces until today.

The audacity of it! I can imagine Marcel Duchamp doing something like that, or maybe Andy Warhol, but I can’t imagine many other artists doing anything so radical. Yet, however radical the idea of painting sticks may be, her pieces at B&B are as traditional and as unpretentious as abstract art can be.

Unlike the pieces I saw photos of that looked to have been tossed willy-nilly in trees, in these pieces she has combined the sticks into simple constructions and painted them with beautiful, simple and decorative patterns using house paint. They are stunning.
There’s one called “Canoe” that is made from five sticks in alternating colors laid out horizontally with a long yellow stick in the middle and a shorter stick dead center. Who uses such extreme classical balance? That’s radical while looking traditional.

“Suspend” is a vertical piece in tones of dark blue with sloppily painted triangles up and down the left edge and right about the middle is draped what looks like a chain of white beads.

“Caravan” and “Cardinal” are among the smallest pieces and the most elaborately constructed with interlocking horizontal and vertical sticks in dark blue and square and triangular blocks of wood in red, yellow and white. They are fresh and deceptively simple, and they remind me of something kids might make with popsicle sticks, but the patterns and color combinations are much more thoughtful and complex than they might appear to the untrained eye.

There’s on called “Danae” that is mostly white and soft blue with one skinny yellow stick and a cascade of white paint that runs downward until it piles up almost at the bottom. Another favorite is “Jeanman Says,” which has a triangular construction that somehow reminds me of a metronome, superimposed over side-by-side sticks, all in subtle colors with a tiny spark of brightness.

This is a small show with unobtrusive paintings (just right for a coffee shop where most people are not there to look at art). But there’s much more to it than that. For those who do bother to look, this is truly outstanding art.

Susan Christian at Batdorf and Bronson, 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through April 23, 516 S. Capitol Way, Olympia.

Photos courtesy of the artist.

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