Susanna Coffey considers Pierre Bonnard's The Terrace at Vernonnet (1920-39) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Coffey notes that "The picture brings us to a summery get together on a golden terrace above a shimmering blue/violet/green/pale yellow landscape. The canvas itself is about the size of a commodious dining table that Bonnard has set up for us, his unseen guests. When I accept the invitation its formal beauty extends, and move closer to this seemingly warm, sensuous work, it’s clear that something much colder is being suggested. While a narrative seems to be implied, it’s hard to determine what the story is. The work’s chromatic structure, gestural facture, loosely interlocking shapes and overall composition feel joyous and lyrical. His treatment of the figures, however, puts quite a few flies in its sweet ointment. Of the six figures on this colorful painted terrace only two are not seen as isolate. The story Bonnard’s characters tell is certainly not a happy one, no joy here... I am drawn to writing about The Terrace at Vernonnet because of its formal and narrative complexity. While it’s not my favorite Bonnard, it is one of his achingly real portrayals of home and hearth. It is also a picture with a narrative that defies an easy read; its formal and iconographic qualities seem to oppose one another. Bonnard’s terrace is a place that is at once both pleasant and unsettling."
Asked about her more abstract recent paintings Coffey remarks: "It's all figure painting, it's the only thing I do... They're about the figure, they're portraits, and that's what they're about. So, while the image is abstracted and might be thought of as modernist abstraction, at the end of the day they're calling in a way that a portrait can call for an 'I, thou' moment. They're more outward, they're not asking to be looked at, they're asking for a relationship... This is a kind of space which is constructed to move out rather than in."
Asked about the variety of subject matter in her work Coffey comments: "I am just moving through the range of genres – still life, figuration, and landscape... Most artists follow their work wherever it leads. They follow their muse or their duende... I’m like the most traditional person in the world, and I am really interested in the genres! I like that connection to the past that the traditional genres provide. People are moving away from tradition and the weight of history, and I’d rather bear that weight and feel it. Even though everything has been done, it hasn’t been done by me. And particularly for women artists, it is not a very long tradition. The culture in the United States is also not that old. So I don’t want to throw it off; I want to get engaged with history, and fight with it, and compete with it."
Yau writes that the show presents "11 paintings by artists committed to working from observation. Chronologically, the artists span five decades (or generations), with Lois Dodd and Lennart Anderson, born respectively in 1927 and 1928, being the oldest. The youngest include Gideon Bok, Anna Hostvedt, Sangram Majumdar and Cindy Tower, with Bok and Tower born in the 1960s, and Hostevedt and Majumdar born in the 1970s. The other artists are Susanna Coffey, Rackstraw Downes, Stanley Lewis, Catherine Murphy, and Sylvia Plimack Mangold, who were born between 1938 and 1949. Together, these artists — a number of whom have been influential teachers — suggest that observational painting is a vigorous, various, and imaginative enterprise that continues to fly under the radar."
Elisabeth Condon visits the studio of painter Susanna Coffey and blogs a photo preview of Coffey's paintings for an upcoming exhibition at Alpha Gallery in Boston.
Condon writes that Coffey's "paintings have changed radically, while retaining salient characteristics such as cropped portrait size, large scale seen close-to, subtle, but exciting color transitions and a 'knit-painting' mark that is a cross between a horizontal dab and flick of the brush. The paintings are on cradled panel, but the overall effect of the facture is a soft density, built layer upon layer to achieve a rich earthiness."
John Goodrich reviews the exhibition Susanna Coffey: Nocturnes at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, New York, on view through April 22, 2012.
This show, Goodrich writes, "concentrates on another, little-known facet of [Coffey's] work: the tiny, nocturnal cityscapes and landscapes—rarely larger than 8 inches across—that the artist has been producing for at least 15 years now. Like the self-portraits, they convince in plastic terms: trees, buildings and streets settle believably into their own spaces. Painted invariably in a single session, their looser, brushier strokes evince a greater urgency of technique."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.