Havana at Malton Gallery
Schuler is an exuberant artist and the culture of Cuba has its own exuberance, so it was a fortuitous meeting. Her visit there earlier this year fueled a stream of paintings in this exhibition filling Malton’s ground floor display space through November 28 and surely available to be seen individually after that.
These are abstract paintings, vibrant pinks and oranges set off by blues and greens with occasional adroitly placed black accents. A surprising number of the works are square, not a shape many artists are comfortable with but one Schuler uses successfully. Another shape she frequently returns to is tall and extremely thin: 84 inches high by 20 inches wide or 72 inches high by 16 inches wide are recurrent sizes. In the gallery window, if you are driving past on Edwards Road, are three of these almost human-shaped canvases, all versions of “Key to the Indies,” in mixed media on canvas.
One of the square works that caught my attention, partly because the palette is pastels rather than the pulsing colors of most of these pieces, is “Luz de Luna.” It is 30 inches by 30 inches, the broad brush producing a swirl of color that may be a skirt twirling in a dance. A dance, of course, performed under the moon. Dance again figures in the small vertical “Baile de Mujere,” encaustic and oil on bristol board, 36 inches high by 12 inches wide.
Exuberant brush work continues in “Ghost Ranch,” 40 inches by 40 inches, oil on canvas, which to me looks like a still life exploded. I see egg shapes, gourd shapes. . .possibly not the artist’s intent, but there it is.
Some works are titled in Spanish, easily translatable in most cases, and let us know that music, dancers and in one case a zebra have provided initial inspiration. “La Cebra. . .” is part of the title of a painting in which black and white stripes appear within the swirls of vibrant color.
It’s an easy guess that music was part of the scene she is remembering with such delight, even without the cues in the titles. The wide brush strokes and sense of movement easily translate as auditory and well as figurative cues.
Schuler has said, in an artist’s statement of more than ten years ago, that her paintings evolve from drawings, and that drawings are “the shorthand of my feelings and experiences. . .I take the seedling of a thought or feeling and work with it until there is a physical connection on the canvas.” This still is true, judging from Havana, in which emotion and visceral response rule the canvas in a spirited tableau that is likely to make the viewer smile in shared pleasure with the artist.
Malton Gallery is at 3804 Edwards Road, open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Susan Schuler: The Deep Blue Sea
Water Garden, a new exhibition of paintings by area artist Susan Schuler opened this past weekend (April 29, 2011) at the Malton Gallery. Schuler has gained a reputation for her brash palette and a gestural approach to painting that echo’s what critic Clement Greenberg once referred to as “the tenth street touch”. As a devotee of mid-century abstraction, the painter wears her influences well. Glimpses of Hoffman, Diebenkorn, Motherwell, and in particular, de Kooning, are pervasive throughout her work, but Schuler manages to get away without ever looking too much like any one of them.
In her newest body of paintings, an exploration of the life sub-aquatic, Schuler broadens her formal vocabulary to include an emphasis on organic and biomorphic forms, creating her most individualized work to date. Though Water Garden also finds the artist working in an elongated vertical format, Schuler’s strength is in her square canvases. In The Everglades, the standout piece of the show, Schuler handles the notoriously challenging format with ease. In contrast to works like The Wetlands and The Water is Life series, The Everglades presents a more restrained, but no less energetic surface. On it, her signature brushstroke is replaced by crisp shapes and patterns that rise and fall like ships on the swells.
Though Schuler is often regarded for her use of color, in Water Garden, she plays it safe. No doubt to stress the picture’s aqueous origins, few of the works range far beyond the blue-green scale. When she does, as in The Everglades and some of the Water Garden series (not to be confused with the title of the show) the paintings take on a precision and clarity not present in some of the looser compositions.
Finally, the extended format present in several of the pictures are problematic for Schuler. While lack of recognizable imagery and compositional hierarchy never perturb her square paintings, it’s debilitating to the vertical ones; without a horizon to guide the eye, these images squirm in all directions simultaneously, leaving the viewer without a firm visual ground to explore from.
Susan Schuler has been making her mark (no pun intended) on the greater Cincinnati art scene for the past several years. If the works in Water Garden -The Everglades in particular- are any indication, Schuler appears to be moving beyond her heroes and confidently towards an imaginative and unique visual language.
-Alan D Pocaro
Women of Kentucky Group Show
There’s more visual excitement in the latest shows at the Carnegie Visual + Performing Arts Center in Covington.
The standout is Susan Schuler. She works in large canvas formats to produce animated abstract expressionistic oil paintings. The style, developed by such artists as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, is concerned with producing emotional and architectural effects both through sweeping gestural painting and thoughtful combinations of colors.
“I’ve been painting abstracty for about four years. I wanted my work to be non-objective. I wanted the individual (viewer) to see in the painting something that would be a reflection of their life or an emotion.”
The largest painting, “Pushing the Comfort Zone,” has exciting passages of warm golds and creams at left and right. But a great swath of pink with purplish overtones and blues of various gradations snake through the lighter areas. Some areas reflect a build-up of paint or impasto.
Adding interest are two elliptical forms. They could suggest a pair of eyes, each one suggesting a different expression.
Paint runs over one “eye,” encouraging a tragic reading while the other eye form looks heavily lidded, suggesting contemplation. Perhaps distrust?