Carol Sutton A Spanner in The Works - Ethos and Spirituality in Abstract Painting3dbuild.gif, red jelly button tinyby Donna Lypchuk



DATE:November 15 to November 30,1990
Exhibition essay for show at OAKHAM HOUSE AT RYERSON UNIVERSITY,
by Terrance Sulymko Fine Art
canadaflag.gifPLACE:Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Voice#8.mini.jpg , Spirit Absorption, 89 1/2 Spirit Absorption, 89 1/2 " x 108 1/2", acrylic on canvas, 1987

 

 
 
Whenever I look at a painting by Carol Sutton, I always find myself re-asking that old question "What is abstract painting?" That question is right up there with questions like "What is God?" That's how I know I'm looking at a good painting. Abstract painting is all about the invention of reinvention of form and the summoning of light out of darkness. The ethos and spirituality behind what makes an abstract painting "work" has never been clearly defined; it either works or it doesn't. Like life, so much of abstract painting is process and so much of it has to do with making choices -- the "right" choices in a contemporary visual milieu who history resembles a kind of intellectual hyperspace where aesthetics sometimes seem to be beside the point. Yet the approximation of some kind of unity or spiritual truth is the " end" of the activity and how could that end not be beautiful?
 
 
Abstract painting is universal signage about experiences who intensity supersedes the limitations of more traditional linguistic forms. At their best, abstract paintings are intense communications about the human spirit; at their worst, they are mimetic exercises in technique -- rational answers to irrational questions.
 
 
The contemporary abstract painter today has many choices to make -- the main choice he has to make is whether or not to respond to the history of abstract expression using the language of his or her predecessors. In the words of Walter Darby Bannard, who wrote about Carol Sutton's "Water Spirals" in 1983. - "The first job of the abstract painter is to work out a scheme to make elements on a visually flat surface relate convincingly across the natural resistance of that surface: de Kooning expanded Cubism, Kline built black and white skeletons, Pollock wove airy nets, Rothko scrubbed on fuzzy, symmetric rectangles. Then come Frankenthaler's pastel stains, Louis' centrifugal stream, Noland's bright targets, Olitski's crammed edges. Each contrived a structure to replace that of depicted reality. Each left his invention in the inventory of form. There's a lot available to us (abstract painters) ." The key words in the above statement by Bannard, are "relate convincingly". At what point does an abstract painting convince us of it's integrity as an object?
 
 
We are convince of the integrity of a painting because it is somehow synchronistic with our own ideas about the world; it is a "magic" object. The idea that the practice of abstract painting is a somehow spiritual pursuit also lends itself to the idea that there is a morality to the practice of painting. Yet, what is moral about things like "magic" and "coincidence", when they can be interpreted as being accidents of intuition? The reality is "there are no accidents". Painting is an impure science -- much more akin to metaphysics and many abstract expressionists are practicing, while dripping, or spooling or spraying paint, theories of randomness we equate with quantum physics. The practice of abstract expression is also ritualistic and refers to states of consciousness that refer to shamanism as well as more traditional religious rituals.
 

 

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Abstract painters are instruments of randomness; like human human divining wands they dowse out images from an infinite inventory of ideas and influences. They literally make something out of nothing, and more often than not, they have to decide whether part of something is less than nothing. Sutton's set-cut paintings, include in this exhibition, refer specifically to this familiar argument. Originally part of a bigger work, set-cuts consist of two or more adjoined pieces of canvas, that stand on their own as individual pieces.
 
 
Although, many of Sutton's painting refer to air and light (particularly reflected light), they often have that "oceanic feeling" described by Freud in his famous paper "Civilization and It's Discontents" in which he tries to explain the religious sentiment described by his colleague Romain Rolland as being " a sensation of eternity . . . a feeling of indissoluble bond, of being one with the external world as a whole." as a form of infantile regression. Freud expressed distress at the idea that he never felt this "oceanic feeling" (religious feeling) but his protegee, Carol Jung did, building his model of the human collective unconsciousness on the model of the mysteries of the Sargasso Sea ( a mythical gigantic spiral of seaweed that floats around the world trapping flotsam and jetsam from history in it's tentacles and fibers). Jung did not readily interpret religious experiences as delirium or delusion; like Aldous Huxley, he treated distorted perceptions as a bridge to another reality.
 
 
Jung, also wrote extensively about the function of the circle and the square as models for the human mind; citing that these two basic shapes, are part of our primal memory and that both ultimately represent the process of individualization, both culturally and within the mental health of the individual. He also compared the creation of a garden to the process of individualization, (the cultivation of the human spirit that ultimately leads to an improvement of the quality of human life). Jung identified the creation of circles (in particular mandalas) and squares (in particular, gardens) as the genesis for identity; what to do with circles and squares (the space within the four corners of the canvas) is a major preoccupation of most abstract expressionists. Perhaps this equation of life's journey (the process of individualization) with the formation of the garden accounts for why Sutton compares herself with the French philosopher Diderot, who wanted people to look at paintings as if he were leading people literally down a garden to a "magic" spot. This magic spot is where both macroscopic and microscopic ways of seeing an object merge; a place where chaos and an ordered sense of the cosmos exist side by side as is expressed in that old saying "seeing the world in a grain of sand". And Diderot was a realist! Carol Sutton also is concerned with creating a bridge between seeing as we normally do, and experiencing seeing as a moment of hyper-vividness. Perhaps a desire to bridge this perceptual gap between two ways of seeing is why two of the three set-cuts in this exhibition are named after bridges, although contrary to traditional painting practices the titling of this work did not necessarily precede the painting of it.
 
 
This exhibition of Carol Sutton's paintings is a first retrospective of sorts; a series of three works presented here, GINGER MOTH ROYAL, CLAY ROSES, AND UNDISPUTED ROYAL, are described by Sutton as being the later evolution of a series of paintings she calls the "Fan" paintings. Her earlier "Fan" paintings of the 70's , upon which her reputation was made, were characterized with bold geometry and pastel, powdery and flat application of colour. These three paintings, crated in the early eighties, are still loosely based on the image of the fan,
 
 

 

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which she was obsessed with for seven years, but they are much more sensuous, looser, boldly coloured -- essentially they are transitional works that represent the early genesis of the Water Spiral Paintings. These transitional "Fan" paintings, in many ways represent a split in consciousness, represented by the stormy diagonal slit of colour that divides the colourfield in half; all three are variations on the theme of "emergence".
 
 
A chronology of this exhibition would continue next with a discussion of the four Water Spiral paintings: ONION TUN ORANGE, NOBLE BUBBLE, KAWAMURA LATIAXIS and the AUSTRALIAN SCALLOP. I see a graphic translation of Jung's metaphor of the Sargasso Sea in the four Water Spiral Paintings in which the "center of the Sargasso Sea" or the "eye of the hurricane" is the focal point of the painting -- an empty or mysterious center through which energy flows. One interpretation of this work is that it refers to the artistic process itself as they could be seen as representing skeletal models of the human psyche. It is interesting to note that the fluid arms of these spirals, whose movement is somewhat dispersed, by the smudging and pushing around of paint on the canvas are somewhat of an improvement on nature, which are said (at least in the case of a hurricane) to flow counter-clockwise; these spirals are a corruption of the spiral as it is traditionally envisaged as a model of a storm, or even more interestingly, as a model of Helelian logic that has been degenerated to include both left and right brain ways of thinking.
 
 
The names of these paintings refer to types of sea-shells. Although these painting are not literal representations of seashells, they certainly are reminiscent of the seashell, as they are of the hurricane, the water spiral, the galaxy, the inner ear, Hegelian logic and DNA amongst other things. It has been suggested that they resemble canvases rolled up on their side. The paint on this canvas is lavish and thick; the variations on this theme are almost literally enriched by colour values. Sutton's also experiments with colours that are very close in value, normally considered to be discordant with each other because they exist too closely and monochromatically when placed together -- the effect is very dramatic, like an ominous chord pressed out in the minor keys of the piano.
 
 
There are three set-cut paintings included in this exhibition:
PONTE VECCHIO, ALHAMBRA BRIDGE and BALCON LE LOUVRE. These works are parts of a whole that stand by themselves individually.
 
 
BALCON LE LOUVRE is the upper section of a two-part horizontal set-cut, which Sutton represents on it's own hung upside down. It is part of an important recent phase in Sutton's development as a painter. For the last three years she has been working on a series known as the Spirit Balcony Paintings and the Silhouette Grill-Balcony Paintings. These paintings are an intensive study of French and Spanish wrought-iron grill work. Sutton's fetishization of this subject matter brings a variety of perceptual element into play. Reflected light flashing from between the heavy bars of the grillwork or bouncing off the grillwork is handled as if the paint is liquid fire and the metal is soft. The artist experiments with the dramatic tension that is created by deep black spaces that are rendered as the positive image ( the actual grill work), and the number of rungs or curlicues in each painting achieves a kind of significance for the artist when she becomes preoccupied with the metaphysical meaning behind the number of rungs she
 
 

 

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depicted in each balcony painting. In other words, she wants to account for her choices, which appeared initially to be purely a binary matter, until Sutton realized they referred to the work of some of her favorite painters such as Thomas Eakins, Goya, Caillebotte and Manet. These painters, although none of them were abstract, also dealt with the silhouette of dark against light, and played with the tricks of perception that shadow plays with light. Sutton has written about these works in an essay entitled The Spirit Balcony Paintings and the Choice of Numbers. The curlicues in BALCON LE LOUVRE represent a natural evolution of the spiral form which obsessed Sutton for seven years. Although the image of the wrought iron grill-work is more literal and derivative than anything she has painted before, the effect of these large vibrant paintings can be said to be somewhat related to the water spiral series.
 
 
ALHAMBRA BRIDGE is a part of a larger work known as the ALHAMBRA BRIDGE SET-CUT. The larger painting was inspired by the bouquet presented by the maid to the nude in Manet's Olympia (1983). In essence, what we are looking at is a linear reinterpretation of the tissue paper that surrounds that bouquet. PONTE VECCHIO is one half of a vertical set-cut and the palette of this painting is based on the flat, pink pearly colours used by the Italian colourist Veronese, who was in the 1500's basically imitating frescoes through the use of oil paint. Both PONTE VECCHIO and BALCON LE LOUVRE experiment with what Sutton calls :"interference colours" on a flat matte surface. All three of these paintings, by virtue of the fact that they are separated from the original sustaining structure ( in essence, the "mother painting"), are about the linking, spanning and suspension of visual information with a canvas whose four corners are conceptually as vast as the four corners of the earth. As is common with much of Sutton's recent work, there is also an attempt to bridge the gap between centuries of history and contemporary practice.
 

The major painting in this show, SPIRIT ABSORPTION, was inspired by the voice of Ernst Lough, a soprano choir boy accompanied by pipe organ , which Sutton first heard in a rare 1927 wax recording aired on CBC. This powerful work, part of a Specific Historically Based series of paintings, is also about the linking, spanning and suspension of visual information. Light has been pulled out of the dark, (in the manner of the Spanish still-life painters that have also influenced Sutton) and split the canvas into chords of colour. The colours resonate with tones of black, gold and orange -- they are the rich earthy element out of which Sutton has pulled an eerie light -- a glimpse of heaven -- a bridge between the spiritual and the physical. This is an intensely spiritual painting that i simultaneously a product of intuition as well as a superb technical acuity. The painting represents the lush and lavish suspension of an aural, as well as tactile experience, but at the same time it has an ethereal quality. This painting could also be a visual depiction of an altered state of consciousness in which colour is heard and sounds are seen. Compositionally, it represents both a circle and a square, as represented by the "dancing" elongated spheres that form the centre of the sphere; it also refers to the bubbling and seething of the primordial mass and ultimately, as does most of Sutton's work, to the moment of supreme creation itself.
 
by Donna Lypchuck, © 1990, Toronto, Canada
 

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DATE: 1989
Gallery Exhibition -Carol Sutton
see portrait below


1989 - "Silhouette-Grill-Balcony" - "New Paintings & Extended Edge Paper Works",1987 French Schoolyard Gate by Carol Sutton, {Silhoutette-Grill- Balcony Series}1987 French Schoolyard Gate
(brochure text written by Carol Sutton), Gallery One, Toronto, Ontario, Canadacanadaflag.gif, April 1 to April 19
 
DATE: 1990
Gallery Exhibition -Carol Sutton
see large image below

1990 "A Spanner in The Works , Ethos and Spirituality in Abstract Painting",
Terrance Sulymko Fine Art and Oakham House at Ryerson College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, November 15 to November 30
[Included major large work: Spirit Absorption]

Voice#8.jpg, Spirit Absorption, 89 1/2

Spirit Absorption, 89 1/2 " x 108 1/2", acrylic on canvas, 1987

PLUS: 3dbuild.gif, red jelly button tinySEE page :pagelinks.gifVoice Breda at: http://www.carolsutton.net/breda/breda_voice_.html

and3dbuild.gif, red jelly button tinyBREDA IMAGES at: http://www.carolsutton.net/breda/breda_images_cls.html


portrait.carol.ballelouvre.jpg, portrait of artist Carol Suttonę

Carol Sutton in front of 'Balcon Le Louvre',

portrait by husband, Andre Fauteux. 1990

3dbuild.gif, red jelly button tiny"BALCON LE LOUVRE is the upper section of a two-part horizontal set-cut, which Sutton represents on it's own hung upside down. It is part of an important recent phase in Sutton's development as a painter." quote from above by Donna Lypchuck


zurbaran_pont_sutton_st.jpg  , Zurbaran by Carol Suttonę

title:Zurbaran St. Dorothy & Pont-y-Crsyllte (as painted) © Carol Sutton [see how it l@@ks when shown as individual artworks.

date: 1985

materials: acrylic on canvas

measurements:

description: Set-Cut Series.

notes: A 2 part vertical SET-CUT, the cut is made before the painting is done. Actually there is no cut, just 2 different widths of canvas are used. "These SET-CUT works of my own invention; are painting where the cut or the 'crop' is done before the picture is painted. By simply laying down one piece of cnavas overlapping the edge of the next I am able to paint free to gesture within a large scale and simultaneously can remember or forget "the break" point (the edge); with the final canvas then separated unsusal breaks occur in the composition some of which I call "dangling participles". quote off 1989 statement by artist Carol Sutton-'NEW SILHOUETTE-GRILL-BALCONY PAINTINGS'.





DONNA LYPCHUK: "Although, many of Sutton's paintings refer to air and light (particularily reflected light), they often have that "oceanic feeling" described by Freud in his famous paper" Civilization and It's Discontents"-
Donna Lypchuk essay on Carol Sutton's art-1990- A Spanner in The Works - Ethos and Spirituality in Abstract Painting
 
(1990- Oakham House show - Donna Lypchuk: 'Carol Sutton: Eye Of The Vortex, The Silhouette-Grill-Balcony Paintings', cover and feature article, essay with full page color and black and white photographs,
Artpost 33, Summer, 1989, pages 9-13, Volume 6, Number 4)
 
 
Broad Daylight Eye {SET-CUT} - © Carol Sutton
 
date: 1988
materials: acrylic on canvas
measurements: 54.25 x 90 in.; 137.8 x 228.6 cm
description: Silhouette-Grill-Balcony Series.

 
Who is Donna Lypchuk? - LINKS
3dbuild.gif, red jelly button tiny#1.Donna Lypchuk is a critic and was a writer for 'Eye Magazine'

 

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April 5, 2011

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