Susan Chrysler White, Olson-Larsen Gallery
October 12, - November 24, 2012
Largest wall piece, paint built up on and between many layers of glassine.
October 18, 2012
Susan Chrysler White’s exhibition at Olson-Larsen in Valley Junction includes a dazzling amount of work, ranging from framed works on glassine (a translucent paper, typically with a neutral pH), works on canvas, and three large floor to ceiling chandelier sculptures of paint on Plexiglas. The works are successful in asking the viewer to look closely—not only for meaning, but to decipher how individual marks are made and form the intricate web of structure.
Some works function on a direct bilateral symmetry that is linked to a number of visual traditions; paintings from Buddhist and Hindu traditions come to mind as the most direct reference. Bilateral symmetry also has a strong reference to biological form and White has contemplated this in her work, including direct references to insects and leaves. The paintings that have bilateral symmetry are necessarily complex with layers of glassine helping to create an encaustic-like depth—without the inward, receding space, their evenness could have the tendency to make them appear flat and singular. It is the sign of a good painter that can be mindful of the 2-dimensional surface and simultaneously understand illusionistic space and the feeling of depth in flat, plastic painting.
HISTORY, Acrylic on canvas with plexiglass and mixed media, 39 x 34
The paintings and works on paper that break away from an overall bilateral symmetry are visually much stronger, as they function with a different sort of visual balance—dialectic relationships between active and passive, gestural and flat, pushing out and receding in tandem on the picture surface to create a dynamic tension between each aspect. All should take note of this in White’s work; it is a great example of how visual balance between two disparate ideas strengthening the impact of both.
Susan Chrysler White hard at work installing sculpture near the front window at Olson-Larsen.
The large, hanging sculptures in the exhibition are engaging as forms but could benefit from more spatial complexity—-this, in part, could be due to limitations of the space. Each hanging piece is close to human size, but at an uncomfortable ‘in-between’ in relation to human scale; or rather, how they feel compared to our bodies as viewers.
Overall, there are some interesting conceptual overlaps in White’s exhibition—if one is willing to mine a little deeper than the visual symmetry. These works all point towards excess and extravagance. Coupled with the visual relationship to biological forms and the Rorschach-like ambiguity of form, the works can lead a viewer into a complex psychological territory. It is a great contribution to contemporary painting in Des Moines.
Benjamin Gardner is an artist living and working in Des Moines, Iowa. He is also an Assistant Professor of Art + Design at Drake University where he teaches drawing classes as well as courses that explore personal identity theories, existentialism, and ideas of place, space, and living. Additionally, Ben spends a lot of time growing food, looking at the sky, and reading about folklore and superstition. He maintains a website that collects artist’s writings (Methodsofbeing.com) and the first book from his independent publishing company Wrenwood Press will be released in June 2012. You can see Ben’s studio work at benjaminagardner.com.