On the Wall – Suzie Idiens
Brent: In painting you really do need to question why you go around the edge and paint the sides. Painting is about the face, the surface, and yes, the edge, which is not the end of the world, but is at the crossroads of a painting. The edge in painting engages the frame as something that contains the image or, as a physical limit, prohibits/suggests infinity. But when the painting is sculpture, and clearly is sculpture, all of a sudden the edges don’t matter anymore. Or they do matter more, but not to reassure the painting’s side, instead they work the sculptural. And it’s here, within the three-dimensional, that your work resides, though with a painting color sensitivity.
Suzie: For me the experience of viewing art (or anything) is three-dimensional. If you are painting a painting in the traditional sense of paint on canvas, the choice of canvas or linen texture, the thickness of the frame, how the edges are finished or if it’s framed, how it hangs on the wall, the face of the work, the space within it is seen, all are important, all inform the experience of viewing the piece. As I am occupied with trying to capture a sense of mass or volume of colour, the thicknesses of the edges or sides are integral, as is the importance of the pieces hanging flush on the wall. The edges of the pieces are curved/rounded off, to soften the transition from the front to the sides, to give a sense of solidity of form and colour.
Brent: What I’m noticing too, is that a particular color affects the look and sharpness of an edge: white, for example, retains an object specificity irrespective of the radius of the curve, while a red softens out the form when the edges are blunted, and hardens them the tighter the curve. With the recent pieces across a range of color and shape the edge appears more rounded. What are the decisions for that?
Suzie: The pieces change depending on the light, so the effect light has on the colour, the resulting reflection, and how the eye reads it varies for some edges to appear sharper than others. The colour of the wall the work is hanging on also plays a part – for example, White Pink on a grey background is quite a different experience. Certainly, with the earlier pieces I rounded the edges by hand, so they have a tighter radius, whereas the more recent pieces I trimmed the edges first and then finished them by hand – nasty dusty work, but it allows me to sculpt a softer, uniform curved edge. So each panel is finished in the same way, they only differ in form, size and colour (or combination) from one another. Your eyes, or your perception, do the rest.
The curved edges are a way of adding tension to the work – by increasing the radius of the edges in combination with the high gloss surface it was giving the pieces a more tactile, more sensual element, and I am intrigued how a geometric bit of coloured mdf can evoke an emotive reaction.
Brent: Had you thought about the curve in terms of product design at any stage, referencing or borrowing from the world of already existing things? I’m thinking of tactility as well as the look and shape of the object. We equate a soft curve with a sensual touch. It also goes back to what you said earlier about the choice of materials, the sides, edges and face – the intangible sense and the physical. And I’m wondering if this has anything to do with the kind of response you are hoping for from the viewer.
Suzie: Product manufacturing processes influence how the pieces are made, but not why they are made – it’s more a means of getting closer to singular form and colour. Initially softening the edges was instinctual, a way of giving the pieces a more sculpted, solid form. Once the high gloss finish was applied it then became a practical element of dealing with the visual continuity of the reflective surface by having a curved edge. As a result it does make them look rather plastic and manufactured, but they retain a certain (visual) weight about them. The deep relief gives the forms a tangible physicality, and the smooth reflective paint finish gives a luminous material quality to the colour, which in turn changes with the naturally transient effect of light and shadow.
The paint finish is rather deceptive – though physically very thin it appears to have more depth, so that makes it intangible, gives it an otherness… rather like you try to look ‘into’ the object, but all you are really catching is what is being reflected in the piece.
Brent: A number of the recent works have two parts: in Transition two parts merge into one (1 part absent); and with the new Pink Red, the two parts inform the idea of one, though with a noticeable cleavage and a more plastic feel because of the pronounced rounded edge. The rectangle as motif is set in both pieces, but in Pink Red there is a greater tension.
Suzie: Two parts of one whole, two sides to the truth, one part completing another, each being a separate unit in its own right. The idea of modular pieces balancing each other out through size and colour, harmony under tension…with Transition it could be perceived as having a section missing, the front of it having been carved out, or dropped away. With Pink Red the smaller red panel seems to be strong enough to stand up to or interfere with the larger amount of pink; any larger and the tension/power play between the two colours would shift again.
Brent: And in Green White, 2012, the one is created by the gap of the two abutting vertical rods. There’s a strange relation between the forms, the color, and their almost equal value and weight. The piece is also very playful catching you off guard to the pleasures of experiencing. The way you talk too, which is intriguingly visual for the times, brings forth Tuttle and even the Zen-minimalist McLaughlin.
West Coast car and surfboard culture may have informed McCracken, Irwin, and Bell – they were all letting go of something, and they kept letting go – but I’d like to know what decided you to start working with these reflective surfaces, knowing that there is a history, in the US, and in Europe – more recent with Gerold Miller, et al: the history is a male one, and therefore before we go any further I’d like to get your take on where you feel you fit into all this.
Suzie: Very interesting question – and I am rather embarrassed to admit the following: I had my first introduction to the West Coast group when reading a book called Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface while waiting 2 hours to see Doug Wheeler’s work at David Zwirner in New York in February 2012. Both the book and the experience blew me away. That was followed by an exhibition of Anne Truitt’s drawings at Matthew Marks gallery. I had only been introduced to Anne Truitt’s work about half a year prior, thanks to Lynne Eastaway (it was also thanks to her recommendation I went to Dia: Beacon, another experience in itself). To say on that particular day in New York I felt like I had crawled out of a cave to see the light would be an understatement! As well as asking myself why and where the hell I’d been all that time your mentioning Tuttle and McLaughlin induced a similar feeling of déjà vu.
Prior to this Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Ellsworth Kelly have been my main influences, along with Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Ben Nicholson and Rachel Whiteread. I came across images of John McCracken’s work and his planks 7 years ago; I’m both shocked and embarrassed to say. Gerold Miller’s work appears to be beautifully executed – again, it is thanks to images of his show at PS Projectspace in Amsterdam (July 2012) that I am aware of his work.
Though most of my work has been made in the last three years since I’ve had a studio here in Sydney, it is based on sketches spanning past 10-15 years; I have a back log I’m trying to work my way through and trying not to jump to new ideas too quickly in order to keep the series together and some sort of sequence. Why the reflective surfaces? In my mind at the time this was one of the means of getting a ‘solid’ colour and a means of showing a form, not wanting the viewer to be distracted by the textural quality of the canvas apparent under applied paint or being able to trace the artist’s hand in the making of the piece. And perhaps a fleeting fascination with Japanese and Russian lacquered bowls at the time may have had an influence, as well as my background in furniture design. There are still works I need to make that have matt, heavy textured surfaces that absorb rather than reflect light; I have yet to find a satisfactory method and material for translating this into reality.
In terms a male history, that’s interesting, because it has never occurred to me as such. I guess I react to and enjoy the experience of viewing specific art, regardless of who made it. Following my initial reaction, I am far more interested in how it was made and why, than who made it (thought admittedly it helps to know these things if wanting to see more of that particular artist’s work, but being male or female is irrelevant to the equation). Though not out of deliberate choice, but one of the aspects of abstract, concrete and non-objective art I so enjoy is it’s apparent non-referencing of gender, religion, race, time or person.
Brent: I’m also curious to know about the 10-15 years leading up to the current work, the sketches (odd that you would make them for so long and not materialize them, if indeed they were sketches for sculpture): and this all due, presumably, because you were without a suitable working studio.
Suzie: No studio or suitable space at home to make work, little income and continuous moving around London didn’t help; along with a fair dose of procrastination. Burgundy Burgundy Red (2001) was made out of found bits of pine timber and hardboard on the hallway floor of a small apartment I was sharing in Shepherd’s Bush, and then completed in another house I shared a while later as it had a small garden to work in. I used kid’s toy lacquer (enamel) over and over again, lightly sanding back between layers, it took forever…I made two other pieces, but they weren’t very successful and continued to dabble with painting (work unlike what I do now). About half a year before leaving London to migrate to Sydney the need to turn some of the sketches into something real became too acute, so I signed up to evening classes that gave me access to a fantastic timber workshop, part of East London University. The technicians thought I was nuts, making these things I refer to as panels, rather than nice mitred hardwood timber frames to go around mirrors etc. But I managed to leave with 4 panels, which I took with me to Sydney. A year after being in Sydney, Paul (my husband) and I got our first studio together – I couldn’t believe my luck. Having the studio enabled me to complete those pieces, and others. Seeing them hung together provided a sense that this might be something worth pursuing, that’s why I’m mindful of past sketches and keen to get them off the page.
Brent: And of course I’m eager to know what a sketch looks like?
Suzie: The sketches are very simple line drawings, more a kind of shorthand to capture a thought. It’s the real object that does so much more, relies so heavily on light, (visual) weight and proportion. It’s never really clear until completion if the piece works or not, it’s all up in the air until then. That’s the beauty of a sketch, it holds so much potential.
Suzie Idiens’ homepage: http://www.suzieidiens.com