Page 1

Susan English Periphery

Cover: Verge, tinted polymer on aluminum and wood panel 34� x 36� 2019

Susan English Periphery

Susan English’s Material Sublime by Stephen Westfall Maine and Southern California bookend the lower 48 states and both have been home to distinctive, if antipodal movements in postwar American art. The Light and Space artists in and around Los Angeles abstracted the evanescent light-drenched effects of Southern California skies, horizons and architectures while Maine has hosted successive generations of painters devoted to a representation of landscape that is more tactile, while remaining invested in the play of light over the ocean, rocks, and lakes. Susan English revisits her family’s home in Maine every summer and is subject to the same inspiration of watching the light play on the tumbled rocks of the Maine coast and the more elemental division of sea and sky beyond the coastal islands. Most of the year, however, she resides north of New York City, not too far from Dia Beacon, where she first encountered the work of the quintessential Light and Space artist, Robert Irwin, who before the installation of his walkthru Homage to the Square3 in 2015 was everywhere and nowhere throughout the huge factory plant and grounds of Dia Beacon as a consultant to the architects Rice+Lipka in the renovation of the building and the lighting from the windows; and as the principal designer of the landscaping. English has been drawn to the Light and Space artists ever since, but as a painter she sought the means of converting light back into matter, the material of paint. A few years ago English figured out how to construct a movable barrier to hold successive pours of nearly transparent polymer medium imbued with pigment. The support structure is rigid—aluminum sheeting on wood panel—so she can lift the structure and let one translucent color sag into the still drying body of another. She then assembles the panels into complete paintings as a stack of two or three horizontals, but sometimes as a horizontal “frieze” of verticals or even a single monochrome panel. As physically engaging as her process is, the effect is that of luminous, windless, hovering veils imbued with daylight. The horizontal compositions immediately bring us to the landscapes of barren places: open water, the desert, and polar ice floes. The dilutions of her color are uncanny in their gradations, so that most of the time we have the initial impression that we are looking at light as atmosphere . . . most of the time. It’s at the edges that the materiality of the paint asserts itself in buildups of deeper darks and in some cases lights, as the paint builds up where it met a barrier. In those moments we can have the distinct feeling that we are looking less at a depiction of a natural phenomenon than we are at film.

A brief but important digression that will inform where we’re headed: English’s paintings invoke a lineage of Abstract Expressionist ties to the Romantic landscape painters, particularly Friedrich and, later, Turner, which the great art historian Robert Rosenblum first connected to the work of Newman, Still, Rothko, and Pollock.1 Following the artists Rosenblum cites, a case could certainly be made for Agnes Martin’s post-grid paintings of horizontal intervals, which can be seen partly as essentializations of her Canadian prairie childhood and her vistas in northern New Mexico. And for Brice Marden’s early encaustic monochromes, particularly the Grove Group (1972-73) and Nebraska (1966). But I think film is the wild card analogy for an even closer looking at English’s paintings. For even as they extend the evanescent atmospheres of the Romantic sublime, they do so as a polymer material that we can sink our teeth into. “Film,” here, has at least two connotations: film as material, including a residual “filminess” that can go so far as to suggest organic fluids; and the light projected through film which has been given an abstract structure by Stan Brakhage and Paul Sharits, among other experimental filmmakers. English’s coaxing of a blood-orange cerise craquelure to rise above its own dark staining into the pungent green below the central horizon of Glance feels like an act of languorous violence worthy of a Mallarme sunset, but it also recalls the textures of a Brakhage film still. At the same time, the multiple horizontal or vertical breaks in her multi-panel paintings induce a stilled, painting version of the shutter stammer of colors that Sharits induced into his film projections. A stammer that goes back to Muybridge’s breakdowns of animal and human motion. In English’s work the motion is in our own shifting aspects as we move around the paintings while seeking to gaze into them to find their making and see if the light really is changing out of the corner of our eye. Paintings are still after all. They work on us slowly, which allows us the luxury of the kind of time it takes to remind us that Marden used a still from Godard’s Alphaville, of Lemy Caution on one side of an open door and Anna Karina on the other, for an exhibition announcement of his early diptychs. As the Godard image intimates and English’s paintings make fact in our own time, paintings are also bodies. Like the rest of us, they do better housed in architecture. Get back on English’s paintings and then come close. They have stories to tell and presences to disclose. 1. Rosenblum, Robert The Abstract Sublime, ArtNews, New York, February 1961.

Shadow Light, tinted polymer on aluminum and wood panel 34� x 36� 2019

Far, tinted polymer on aluminum and wood panel 48� x 62� 2019

Traces, tinted polymer on aluminum and wood panel 48� x 38� 2019

Wide, tinted polymer on aluminum and wood panel 26� x 28� 2019

Glance, tinted polymer on aluminum and wood panel 48� x 38� 2018

Near and Far, tinted polymer on wood panel 54” x 47” 2016

Lift, tinted polymer on wood panel 36” x 55” 2017

Outland No.1, tinted polymer wood panel 40” x 36” 2019

Outland No.9, tinted polymer on aluminum and wood panel 40� x 36� 2018

Outland No.6, tinted polymer on aluminum and wood panel 40� x 36� 2018

Outland No.11, tinted polymer on aluminum and wood panel 40� x 36� 2019

Broken Sky, tinted polymer on wood panel 25” x 23” 2016

Room to Room No.2, tinted polymer on wood panel 28” x 24” 2017

Red Sky at Night, tinted polymer on wood panel 26” x 24” 2017

Susan English has exhibited her work nationally, including solo exhibitions at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts and Littlejohn Contemporary in New York City, and Matteawan Gallery, Van Brunt Gallery, and Theo Ganz Gallery in Beacon, NY. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at the Dorsky Museum, New Paltz, NY; Edward Hopper House, Nyack, NY; Woodstock Artist Association and Museum, Woodstock, NY; Strohl Art Center, Chautauqua, NY; LABspace, Hillside, NY; Ann Street Gallery, Newburgh, NY; Kenise Barnes Fine Art, Larchmont, NY; and Drawing Rooms, Newark, NJ. Art fairs include Art on Paper 2018, NYC and Art Market San Francisco 2018. English was awarded an artist residency at Ucross Foundation, WY (2018) and a fellowship at the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, NY (2016). Her work has been reviewed in The New York Times, Widewalls Magazine, Whitehot Magazine, Chronogram, Abstract Art Online, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Highlands Current. She received an MFA from Hunter College in New York City and a BA from Hamilton College, Clinton, NY. She lives and works in the Hudson Valley. The New York Times has described her work as “sublime” and “buoyant.”

Studio, Nelsonville, New York March 2019

Profile for susanenglish4


Catalogue of recent paintings, published in conjunction with solo exhibition, Periphery at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, March 28th - May 4th.


Catalogue of recent paintings, published in conjunction with solo exhibition, Periphery at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, March 28th - May 4th.