“Emerald Street”, 2001 oil on canvas, 60″ x 84″
Struggling with the demons of your inspiration and coming out on the other side with a voice of your own– or– Influence, though crystal clear, doesn’t strangle the life out of Becky Suss’ landscapes.
I like Space 1026. I say that first and foremost because it is the truth regardless of any criticism I hereafter may utter. I like Space 1026 but it has become a predictable place where one can expect to find graffiti folk-inspired “skateboarder art” hold-overs of the ghost of the San Francisco Mission School as it manifested itself on the East Coast. I also like the art of what is lumped together as The San Francisco Mission School–Chris Johanson, Barry McGee, and Margaret Kilgallen being the most household names. Many of the artists who work and show work at Space 1026 like these artists as well, perhaps a little too much in the- -imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery- way. Sometimes the things we love can swallow us whole if we don’t practice constant vigilance and self-restraint.
Becky Suss‘ “Cold Cold Ground”, exhibited at Space 1026, gives us the perfect opportunity to witness the smoke clearing on the bloody battlefield of influence and originality with Ms. Suss’ landscapes emerging victorious.
The Hegemony of Folk Art and Comic Books
Space 1026 was founded in 1997. The “Mission” movement is generally considered to have emerged in the early 1990s but was not coined as “Mission School” until Glen Helfand wrote an article in the San Fransico Bay Guardian in 2002 (this information is straight Wikipedia and may be up for debate). 2002 was also the year Lawrence Rinder curated the Whitney Biennial which introduced me (and perhaps most of the East Coast) to the work described as being apart of The San Francisco Mission School. Also in that show was the work of Forcefield, a collaborative project started at Fort Thunder in Providence, Rhode Island which was founded in 1995 and often named as one of the major influences to the original founders of Space 1026.
All these schools and collectives owe something to a folk/outsider/street/comic book/cartoon influence which may owe a great deal to the lowbrow art movement as it emerged in Los Angeles, California in the 1970s. Tying this all together is more then a little clumsy of me and the best way to do it would be a slide-show during which the visual cues would be extremely apparent. Perhaps stumbling around with words while describing the influence of a circle that doesn’t put much stock in art theory was an inept idea to begin with.
Becky Suss is an artist of this world and hegemony, having had a studio at Space 1026 from 2003-2007 before heading to graduate school at UC Berkeley which she finished a year ago. Her landscape paintings clearly bear the mark of being inspired by the same folk/outsider art. Your mind traces the wonky perspective and rounded corners of Becky’s landscape to Persian miniatures or ex-votos before thinking of art movements such as the Hudson River School. Though it can be noted that Becky composes her landscapes from remembrances of place and the actual scenes are synthesized compositions of multiple or imagined scenes, in a way that is very similar to the workings of artists of the Hudson River School.
Into Another World
Walking up the flight of stairs from the ground floor to the gallery the viewer is first confronted with the 60″ x 84″ “Emerald Street”– a landscape that depicts a winding river of waterfalls emptying into a calmer body of water that resides in the forefront of the composition directly behind a mass of oddly-detailed sticks (or straw or grass) and rocks. The style is folksy, odd, learned from painters who were not taught to be painters–”Emerald Street” could be the background from a Horace Pippin or Grandma Moses painting–but that is just the style through which the message is conveyed. Ultimately the painting reaches its goal of being sincere and some of the wonder and awe that must have inspired the painter in the first place is communicated through the paint. For a second you are not on the second floor above a crowded, hot and sticky Philadelphia street at mid-day but somewhere cool and nice, grounded, peaceful.
Becky’s subject matter is completely foreign to my everyday life in an urban environment in which there are very few trees, large rocks, or bodies of water, as Becky herself currently lives in Kensington (a neighborhood in northeast Philadelphia) I can only imagine that her subject matter is incongruous to her everyday life as well. Still two paintings in the exhibition depict what may be a Kensington backyard enclosed by a fence and devoid of any garbage or urban baggage that I usually associate with the area, “Kensington, Winter” and “Kensington, Summer” (both 2010). The two smallish (16″ x 16″) paintings are displayed side by side contrasting the same yard barren and covered in snow and then a riot of summer greenery and flowering things.
Every image, (There are eight on display) seems personal. Never would you suspect that the artist had not visited each location or had only viewed it through a photograph. When viewing a backyard in Philadelphia or rock formation that may exist somewhere in California you get the feeling that the depicted space was the background to some personal contemplation. If you have had the opportunity to visit nature it is easy to draw upon your own experiences when viewing Suss’ work, remembering that perfect sunset you were able to see or that moment when you weren’t really thinking but just being there. You know, the moments that you really can’t capture or describe with words.
Beck Suss’ paintings reside somewhere in the space between the paintings of two other artists who practice in Philadelphia. Her attention to detail and spacial composition reminds me a great deal of Sarah McEneany while her subject matter seems similar to the animal and figure-less landscapes of Joy Feasely.
Though less then half of the work in “Cold Cold Ground” depicts a landscape in winter the title of the show seems completely apt. Becky’s eight paintings work on your head in a way that is very similar to a freezing breath of fresh air–they have nothing to do with your problems, or politics, or the Internet, or real life. The exhibition seems like a quiet gift.
This exhibition was also reviewed on artblog.