Friday, August 21, 2009

Pat Steir: When Painting Comes to You

WATERFALL OF FUNDIMENTS, 1990, oil on canvas, 92" 1/2 x 132"

It was around 1988 at a library in a small town in Iowa that I first found a book about the work of Pat Steir. That book was one of the first I’d found in a local library that showed a detailed historical progression of a contemporary painter and the name “Pat Steir” was promptly written into my sketchbook as one of my top ten artists. Twelve years later, I walked into the Des Moines Art Center and saw a major exhibition of Steir’s “Waterfall” paintings that also included works from her “Moon and Wave” series. The day I actually saw her paintings wasn’t just another quiet day at the museum—it was the opening of her show, and Pat was there. I didn’t get to talk with her, but I did view her work, and was amazed. The simplicity of means—just letting the paint flow downward—and the way each canvas took up visual space on its own really showed me what paint could do, rather than what could be done with paint. Pat Steir is still on my list of favorite painters, but the list has gotten much larger and just keeps growing…

BLACK AND GOLD, 2009, oil on canvas, 84” x 84”



Images courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Suzan Frecon: Pigment’s Poet

Red Euclid, 2006, watercolor on paper

Viewing the work of Suzan Frecon can be a challenge. Seeing her paintings is enlightenment. Suzan Frecon is a painter who often works with raw pigments, exploring their characteristics and applying them with sensitivity and sincerity. She’s been on a long and steady path of progression and her compositions are the result of looking, thinking, working—and more working. Whether painting on canvas with oil or on old Indian ledger paper with watercolor, Frecon strikes a balance between her influences and her own intuition. Suzan Frecon is a “painter’s painter”.

Composition, blue strokes on red, 2005
watercolor on old Indian ledger paper, 9” x 12 ¾”

Images courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sue Hettmansperger: Ecology of Form

Entanglement, 2009, oil on linen mural, 57" x 54"

In 1977, Sue Hettmansperger joined the faculty at the University Of Iowa School of Art in Iowa City, and has been an important influence there ever since. I first saw her work at a U of I faculty art exhibition some years ago. What impacted me most were her color sensibility and inventiveness of form. The paintings also exude a quality I refer to as “tug”—they pull you closer. As I was drawn in, I was in awe of their finish as the mark-making became evident. The many layers of brushstrokes in a wide spectrum of color almost seem knit together.

Chimera, 2007-2008, oil on linen, 27" x 27"

In an interview with Sue, I asked her about the forms in her paintings as they seem to be in a state of metamorphosis. She told me that in her earlier work, she used more organic forms from nature, but has increasingly incorporated more diverse sources for her imagery such as man-made objects. I commented that the paintings seem timely and emblematic of what may be occurring in nature right now and she shared with me her concept of “the complexity of life embodied in a painting” and that there is a definite “fusion and entanglement” to her forms that can be interpreted as ecological.

Chimera, 2007-2008, oil on linen, 27" x 27"

As for her colors, Sue credits a video collaboration as an influence on their recently more intense saturation. Her husband, who is a composer, wrote the music while Sue added the graphics. The digital video with its “acidity of color” as Sue said, opened up another range of color for her that she eventually used in her paintings. Towards the end of my interview with Sue, we talked about how painters should keep on progressing in their work and she summed it up, taking that thought one step further by saying, “paint to learn about life”.

Sue Hettmansperger’s work can also be seen at A.I.R. Gallery.