Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Ins & Outs: Zaun Lee and Suzanne Song at Satori Galler

April 15 to May 31, 2009
164 Stanton Street, between Suffolk and Clinton,
New York City, 646 896 1075

Suzanne Song, Fold II, 2009. Acrylic on linen, 70 x 82 inches. Courtesy of Satori Gallery
Suzanne Song, Fold II, 2009. Acrylic on linen, 70 x 82 inches. Courtesy of Satori Gallery

Located in the Lower East Side, on Stanton Street just west of Clinton Avenue, Gallery Satori offers challenging shows that pose questions about traditional values in art. Given the generally youthful feel of the neighborhood, it makes sense that the space would show young artists; the current exhibition of paintings by Zaun Lee and Suzanne Song, who are in their thirties, is no exception. Interestingly, both practice a geometric abstraction, with Lee showing long, tall compositions painted on wood and Song presenting works that fool the viewer’s eye into believing that they are three-dimensional rather than painted and sanded small rectangles on wood. In the current climate, it seems to me impossible to generalize about the state of painting, in large part because so many artists are putting out different styles. Even so, the lineage of modernism appears to be hanging on, even if only by the tips of artists’ fingers. In this fine show, in which a deliberate beauty is practiced by both artists, we see the persistence of hard-edged nonobjective painting, which in their hands continues the several generations of a legacy many of us might have easily considered moribund.

Lee is a particularly strong abstract painter whose larger works might be seen as Asian scrolls; the artist was born and raised in Korea, also studying there for three years before she came to America to attend school. Cloud and Its Shadow #2 (2008) is a large (38 by 80 inches), acrylic on panel painting that interestingly uses Lego forms as important aspects of the composition. On the right edge of the painting we see a black column whose edges are scalloped in the shape of Legos, while in the middle there is a black center, again hard edged, that appears to sit on top of two verticals, one blue and one brown. The black mass looks roughly like a cloud, or a shadow of one; it hangs menacingly over the lower part of the painting. On the left is a light-brown vertical stripe that abuts onto a deep-gold ground. The painting placed next to #2 is Cloud and Its Shadow #4 (2008); the latter’s dimensions exactly match those of the former. Here the Lego shapes build upon each other on the upper middle of the painting, with a white shape mimicking in a general sense the black form in the middle of #2. Vertical stripes, ranging in color from white to brown to dark blue to a somewhat lighter blue, seem to support the Legos, which are collected along the edges of the white mass. Lee’s technical skill is remarkable, allowing her to build a new imagery that is both whimsical and inventive in its implications.

Zaun Lee, Cloud and its Shadow 2, 2008. Acrylic on wood panel, 80 x 38 inches. Courtesy of Satori Gallery
Zaun Lee, Cloud and its Shadow 2, 2008. Acrylic on wood panel, 80 x 38 inches. Courtesy of Satori Gallery

As a painter Song is equally skilled, although her style and its effects are very different from those of Lee’s. Fold II (2009) offers a marvelous array of zigzagging stripes, white verticals followed by brown unpainted ones. To achieve the three-dimensional effect, Song paints and then sands the white, angled strips, which are then airbrushed to give the illusion of a shadow. The visuals change as the viewer moves past them, so that the stripes seem to hover in midair. In a large painting like this (70 by 82 inches), the effect is undeniably powerful, startling Song’s audience into closely examining just how exactly the artist accomplishes her affects. The shadows are barely there, yet they are responsible for the three-dimensional impression.  In an untitled painting from 2009, at 48 by 60 inches not quite so large as Fold II, Song has the edges of each white rectangle in the composition overlap slightly, a decision that fools the eye again into believing the surface is three-dimensional. The overall scheme of the painting consists of the white stripes forming diagonals, alternating with brown rectangles that also are aligned diagonally. In the case of both paintings, the trick of the eye has been pulled off by a highly skilled technique. Even so, it is incorrect to suggest that, despite their skill, either Song or Lee is a mere technician; their work nicely activates the intellect and communicates joy.