Lusting for Kale: Suzanne Joelson in Bushwick
Slipping Systems: Suzanne Joelson at Studio 10
October 14 to November 13, 2016
56 Bogart Street (at Grattan)
Brooklyn, NY 718 852 4396
The six large paintings, all done this year, in Suzanne Joelson’s show at Studio 10 evince the ecstasy of first love. The paintings are notably suffused with crazy feeling, ranging from the erotic cropping of an image of eggs in carton, the sensuous rhyming of paint strokes and chicken skin, or the fierce splintering of a wood paneled surface. Known as an incredibly smart artist, voracious reader of complex theory, and an enthusiastic educator willing to consider all possibilities of making art, it seems that in this latest body of work she has thrown caution to the wind and followed her heart.
The trigger for this lust resulted from coming across discarded vinyl supermarket banners while on a jog with her husband. The possibilities inherent in the over-sized, groomed advertising images of grocery staples — eggs, kale, chicken — hit her like a lightning bolt. Sliced up, the banners were immediately employed as collage elements in her paintings. The results are startling, certainly due to the punch of their visual effects as paintings, but also because of the way the pieces of banners have inspired her to paint with a newly discovered sophistication that leaps beyond intellectual propriety.
All the rational formal decisions Joelson used to make are still there, but have become subordinated to the emotional impact the banner images bring. These collaged images have brought a delirious scale to Joelson’s work and every painted moment now occupies a dual identity as pure abstract paint as well as a reference to the fragments of large-scale depictions of food.
Massaging Kale, has a passage of striated green, black, and white paint in the middle panel of three that reads as a motion-blurred image of the vinyl vegetables depicted on the side panels. Joelson might have previously used a similar paint facture before, but the transformation of the paint into a representational analog is new here, and an elevation in understanding of the possibilities of the dual nature of paint itself as both material and signifier.
Joelson loves the play of language both visual and verbal, and Crack, Rake, Crate has both. Metaphorical transformations abound from painted green stripes, green and white striped cloth, and the green tines of an old rake that hangs Rauschenberg-style off the surface of the painting. The “old rake” may be a pun because it challenges the power of what seem to be large naked brown thighs. But those inviting thighs are just the cropped image of two giant eggs astride a pudendal gray triangle of egg carton. The fracturing of the painting by the alternating horizontal/vertical arrangement of four rectangular wood panels to produce an empty white square in the middle echoes the tongue-twisting title.
The eggs in crate/thighs in panties recur in Egg Game, (another punning title as a post-modern rebuke to the idea of endgame abstraction). But even when she becomes more abstract, as in the paintings, As It Happened and Where it Went, which introduces the show, and Grasping the Center, near the end, Joelson still produces an emotional impact. In As It Happened Joelson uses the ideas inherent in the wood panels of its construction, playing with the scale of the dark grey enlarged wood grain found on the vinyl banners, or shattering the surface to show the wooden structure underneath. The violent splintering contrasts with the rational construction of echoing shapes and negative spaces. While Grasping is composed entirely of sky blue vinyl fragments and white paint, the way the central white image is patched together from the fragments is almost Frankenstein-like.
F. Scott Fitzgerald defined first-rate intelligence as the ability to hold two opposed ideas at the same time and still be able to function. But contemporary painting contains so many conflicting ideas that trying to reconcile all of them can produce arid results. Joelson masters the impossible complexity of modern thought, not through rationality but through feeling.