Friday, August 17, 2012

Susanna Coffey Studio Preview: Alpha Gallery, Boston

Alpha Gallery Link
Susanna Coffey Website

It has been a while since I've spent time with painter Susanna Coffey, whom I've known since 1987. I visited her ex-schoolroom studio on a rainy Wednesday after her work had been photographed for an upcoming show at Alpha. Above, links to her Alpha Gallery artist page and personal website; below, images from her studio that form a preview of the show.

The paintings have changed radically, while retaining salient characteristics such as cropped portrait size, a large scale seen from close-to, subtle, but exciting color transitions and a "knit-painting" mark that is a cross between a horizontal dab and flick of the brush. The paintings are on cradled panel, but the overall effect of their facture is a soft density, built layer upon layer to achieve a rich earthiness.

In a talk at the Studio School some years ago, Susanna mentioned African masks and the way, after long bouts of painting, how self-portraiture 'disappears' within a larger construct. It was as if there comes a point when subject matter and content becomes secondary to the process of painting itself: direct communication with less attachment to means. At least this is how these new paintings seem; they are both portraits and not; we admire the paint, guffaw at exaggerated features and fall quiet before the prospect of a surface that contains both form and emptiness, and we move through these changes without effort.

A 2011 self portrait, a year in the making, might be the pivot for the turning away from the self-portraiture that occupied Coffey's work for the better part of a decade. Her renegotiation of terms includes landscape as a version of dissolved or dissolving form, a fusion to which monotypes from as far back as the 1990s begin to point. The vacillation between form and ground seems solid sometimes and other times, ephemeral. We look, and in the process become aware of the pleasure and mechanics of seeing. This fulfills the promise of the mask Coffey showed years ago, that magnifies awareness of how embodied experience resonates in the object, be it sculpture or painting.

The beautiful mask with "knit-painted" eyes and trim, all paintings approximately 15 x 13 inches, oil

Coffey Buddha

Self portrait merged with elements: a year's work

Similar to the monotype portraits, but with a literary character, perhaps?
This bear shows a camoflage technique Coffey has been using
Watercolor Buddha - gorgeous washes, but reflection took over

A figure/ground monotype with wrapped painting to the left

"Knit" landscape - a real beauty

Hard to close in, but look at that surface!

"The more I move away from the world, the more I want to be in it, painting"

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