Saturday, August 7, 2010


Our friend Susan Thacker--and an erstwhile member of of our "Artists' Mattters" group--was in Laguna at the weekend for her opening at the Studio Arts Gallery. She moved up north a couple of years ago, so it was good to have the opportunity to see her again and catch up. We enjoyed, too, the opportunity to see the work she has been doing since she left the fold.

Susan works out of a nice conceit: that seeing things from above, from the bird's eye view, offers us the chance to witness human activity in a different way. Initially, her paintings give the impression of abstractions, accumulations of colorful dots of various sizes arranged in curious patterns on the painting's plane. Closer examination confirms that these are actually human figures, seen from above. Their configurations suggest patterns of assembly or migration, and ask us to think about the ways in which we come together, socially or for business or other practical reasons. Here's "Starting Line," for example...

... where competitors assemble in athletic gear, perhaps for a marathon. And the more structurally complex "Crowded House"...

I love the whimsy of Susan's conceit, and the way it manages to put all of us human beings--who each consider ourselves so important and unique--into a rather humbling perspective. We become little toys, or pieces in a board game; the place we occupy is almost arbitrary and our action--flying a kite, say--becomes a tiny gesture in the greater plan of things. Susan can also be satirical, as in "America on Sale"...

... where she slyly includes price tags and special offers in the crowd of mall shoppers.

But note also in these paintings the skill with which color and patterning are used. Susan's work has echoes, for me, of Wayne Thiebauld, whose paintings have a sensuality that betrays a passion for the objects he portrays. In the same way, Susan's work seems to me about a genuine love for, and curiosity about our species. She invites us, warmly, to contemplate who we are, how we sometimes isolate ourselves from others in a crowd, or how we establish relationships. From the perspective she affords us, we are indeed small creatures, almost interchangeable; seeing ourselves in the same way that we look down on a colony of ants, we are offered the opportunity to smile a little at our self-importance. What hand, we may wonder, might reach down casually from above, and shift us to a totally different position on the board? Or what foot stamp down to crush us?

There's a quirky vision at work here, but put to service in the structural context of the painter's conventional territory: the rectangular canvas. All painting--even the most apparently representational--is, of course, abstraction. Susan seems to meander happily between the two, and takes our eye along for the pleasurable ride.

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