exhibition slideshow

Oil Paintings by
Susan Sullivan

On View
January 16  - February 27, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010
7:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m.

Oil painter Susan Sullivan steps into the spotlight with a solo exhibit entitled "WET PAINT," on view at PHD Gallery January 16 through February 27, 2010 with an opening reception Saturday, January 16, 2010 from 7 to 10PM. Aptly described as a "painter's painter, Sullivan's work is a celebration of the very medium itself.

In her latest figurative works, the artist has abandoned the traditional brush and canvas entirely in favor of the palette knife. Sullivan enjoys the contrast of her delicate figures with the rough wood boards and tough palette knife strokes.

The paintings in her landscape series, often created with tools intended for construction rather than art, depict the artist's experience of a certain place at a certain time with only a few purposeful strokes. With bold, confident, even aggressive strokes, Sullivan makes no attempt to conceal her hand.

Her vintage series, inspired by old family photo albums, utilize brush painting with her palette knife technique combining both to achieve a haunting effect. The figures, backgrounds, and faces go selectively in and out of focus.

She is able to define complex forms with a single pass of her tool- sometimes taking off paint rather than adding it. Leslie Holt, MFA Painter and Instructor at Fontbonne University notes that "a delicate, idiosyncratic line carved into a layer of paint can describe a carefully observed contour of where the land meets the sky." (Read Holt's entire essay below.) Her works are typically completed at a single sitting from a picture taken by the artist, and groupings of her paintings read like photo albums, documenting where she has been and the people who are meaningful to her.

A St. Louis native, Susan Sullivan earned her BFA in Painting from Kansas City Art Institute in 2002. She was awarded the Rosalie Tilles Scholarship, which provided her full tuition for four years.

"I have focused on memory as a theme in my work. I generally paint from old family photographs and pictures I have taken to capture a kind of collective family memory.

In recent years, I have painted exclusively oil on board with palette knives. They provide me an immediate gratification that brushes and canvas never could. There's no blending or fussing- just clean colors applied one stroke at a time."

Susan Sullivan

The Tip of Experience
by Leslie Holt

I want to touch Susan Sullivan's paintings. I want to stick my finger in that thick layer of paint disguised as frosting. Regardless of the subject matter she chooses - landscape, portrait, family photos - the simple presence of the paint itself is also the subject. The paint appears to have been effortlessly layered, scraped, pushed into recognizable form. One pass of the knife becomes a tree, a rectangle of dark paint simply scraped away is a window, a chunk of pink is a forehead. In some images there are so few marks, they almost look accidental. In other pieces she emphatically scrapes down to the wood leaving a ghost image, as if excavating or erasing a memory.

Susan Sullivan's paintings are personal but not private. Not only do the lush surfaces invite us in, but also the scenes are familiar. I feel like I have seen that particular grouping of shrubs before. And that girl in the patent leather shoes look a lot like photos of my mother as a child. It matters to Sullivan that these people are her family and friends, that she has been to every site she paints and that she took the photograph. They are her memories. But the universal forms she extracts from the paint tell me they could be mine too. Despite the fact that the work teeters on the edge of abstraction, almost dissolving into pure shape, line, color and texture, the specificity of her experience materializes.

The graceful economy of recognizable forms belies the oversized, almost clumsy, chunks of paint that occupy so much of her work. Thick paint smeared on with a putty knife is not what one would usually associate with the word careful. But in Sullivan's work, a delicate, idiosyncratic line carved into a layer of paint can describe a carefully observed contour of where the land meets the sky. A lost edge of a rectangle can describe the moment the sun disappeared behind the clouds.

The accuracy of the image depends on Sullivan giving us just enough specific information- the texture of grass in a field, the quality of light hitting the side of a face, the particular shade of blue in the sky - to balance out the lovely open, spare shapes. In some images there are so few marks, so spare, the contrast between the singular, wide paint strokes and the tiny scratches holds the story. And memories can be just that - the tip of an experience, a dot of focus against open ground. These are her stories, but the paintings invite us to remember, too.

Leslie Holt, MFA
Painter, Instructor Fontbonne University

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