Catalog notes by Lisa Favero, doctoral
canidate in contemporary art history, Harvard University.
Anchorage Museum of History and Art
PAINTING THE SPACE
OF TIME – 1994
Some moments are longer than others. They eclipse other events
and change with time, continually assuming new countenances and meanings.
In her artwork Suzanne Charleston explores the interdependence of all
things that the lasting moment reveals. Most important is her paintings'
ability to transform the momment into a tangible object. The artwork then
can act as a mnemonic, a portal for return to a transcendental state.
And once given such form, that heightened condition is all the better
conserved for present and future use.
When Charleston's paintings function at this level they are comparable
to early Christian icons. Icons are likenesses that had the power to embody
divine essence and thereby enable believers to have immediate access to
divinity in an otherwise profane world. Of this similarity in intent she
is aware and the paintings themselves offer cues to help viewers make
the association with icons. Splashes of gold in her compositions often
delineate atmospheric space that surrounds representational elements just
as the gold, albeit a solid field, suspends the sacred figures portrayed
in an icon. The wood panels on which she works are an especially direct
reference – traditional icons are painted on the very same material.
One of the pleasures of looking at a Charleston painting, beyond the spiritual
implications to be discerned, is the "openness" of its construction.
The process that brought about its completion is visible in the same manner
as it would be in a collage. There are multiple layers of color and overlapping
forms; the freshest paint engages with the driest portions of which may
or may not be obscured by subsequent strokes. From this vantage point,
when each painting reads as a history of its own production, her work
becomes the actual means by which she distills her subject matter.
The canvas inserts are early additions. They emphasize the primary surface
of the piece and, together, the wood and canvas form a subtext of sorts
for the paint. The texture and elevation of the canvas contrasts with
the smoothness and the resulting negative space of the wood, but the paint
permits a role reversal between the two since it is capable of articulating
the wood as positive space. The paint or rather color is responsible for
a great number of other structures that are no less solid or unambiguous
than the low relief created by the canvas inserts. They too oscillate
between interior and exterior formations and as one changes into another,
the viewer effortlessly moves from space to space.
The gestural qualities of her work and her treatment of composition as
process places Charleston within the Abstract Expressionist tradition
of American painting. But it might well be the case that Abstract Expressionism
is deeply rooted in her instead of the reverse. It was the first example
she was given of "real" art growing up in New York and from
a young age on, taking lessons from artists who followed in the footsteps
of the first generation Abstract Expressionism painters. The art she saw
as a child was surely big, aggressive, and more often tonal than not.
Abstract Expressionism in the present day has license to opt for something
other than heroic: Charleston is a colorist and has chosen to make her
paintings intimate, not so much by their detail and small scale as by
her subtle and friendly choreography of the viewer's eye.
L isa Favero
© Copyright 2004 - 2012 Suzanne Charleston
Website Designed, Developed, and Maintained by LBS Design Studio