The Pleasures of Slow Paintings
Suzan Frecon: 'Oil Paintings and Sun'
Suzan Frecon came to Minimalism late, but she has persisted and her work has a deeper, quieter kind of originality: a sense of unassailable integrity and the fullness of form. Now in her early 70s, Ms. Frecon has for over three decades been homing in on one or two simple shapes seen against one color. Her newest paintings have two panels whose division forms a kind of horizon line, while the shapes themselves imply curved hillocks, small mountains, crystalline ponds, low-hanging clouds and rising or setting suns. Despite the use of "Sun" in this show's title, her colors, which she grinds and mixes herself, tend toward dark. Rust, blues and greens prevail here with results that seem like nocturnes. They combine Rothko's color at its most winey and most somber with the carefully modulated geometries of Ellsworth Kelly, but are always clearly handmade, painted with a meditative quality that evokes Morandi.
Ms. Frecon's images are obviously landscapes, but they also resemble something stranger: actual sculptures completely flattened against the surface, with traces of light and space lingering behind them that go beyond simple illusionism into actual perception. This balancing of nature and artifice is both exquisite and witty. Part of the physicality of the work stems from Ms. Frecon's earthy color sense but also from her subtle yet decisive contrasts of matte and shiny surfaces. The paintings have a profoundly odd optical reality that is all their own. They are obdurate objects that don't quite dwell in our space, which is what makes them so exceptional.
Suzan Frecon's Patience Should Be Rewarded
The turning point for Suzan Frecon happened in 1989, when she saw the exhibition of the Swedish artist and mystic, Hilma af Klint: Secret Pictures at PS1. In an interview I did with Frecon that appeared in The Brooklyn Rail (November 2005), the artist stated:
I always craved geometric solutions. They underlie so many things: architecture and old paintings that are informed by geometry, like Cimabue, Romanesque cathedrals, churches. You have the structure of the building and then you have the curves of the architecture and then within that you have the painting and within that you have the art. I like that, and Pomo baskets and Nigerian indigo cloth with light coming through. All those things left their powerful impression on me. I think those things have the influence of geometry. Years ago I was focused on trying to do geometric paintings and I didn't have the confidence to feel that I was doing something worthwhile or unique. There were so many painters using geometry at that time in their work. I kind of went back to concentrating on colors and strokes. But I always wanted to come back to it. I think Hilma af Klint helped give me the guts to return and go further.
In af Klint, Frecon saw an artist whose use of geometry had little to do with art history, especially Cubism or the grid. Rather, for af Klint, her use of the segmented circle and "snail" motif enabled her to evoke the occult and the underlying connections between inner forces and outward appearances. This is where Frecon parts company with af Klint. While both aspire toward the highest plane of consciousness, we have to remember that af Klint was a symbolist, while Frecon regards herself as a painter, a maker of things. This is what she said about her painting in our interview:
I try to keep any association or image out of my paintings. I think they are most successful when they reach for the highest possible plane of abstraction, when you can't say that they look like something. Certainly, I love architecture and I'm always fascinated with looking at it anywhere and it does influence my work.
There are eight paintings in her current exhibition, Suzan Frecon: oil paintings and sun at David Zwirner (February 19–March 28, 2015).