Sue Collier: Looking for Answers
Sue Collier’s show, Looking for Answers, at the Painting Center, is full of warmth, patience, and some first-rate painting. The viewer is treated to informal, thickly wooded, Central Park scenes presented in well worked out plays of light and shadow.
A distinct 19th-century impressionist and pointillist sense of pleasure come through in Collier’s paint application. Every park painting seems to play its own game with the bits of light scattered on the ground. Surface similarities– the light and leaves on the forest floor for example – give way on closer inspection to interesting differences across the paintings in how these effects are achieved. The playful mix of spots of light on a forest floor in Walking the Dog is achieved by letting the color mix. In Light Shards, it is as if the light spots are cut-outs. Whatever her subject, the sense of harmony in her painting is very strong, something she typically achieves through a mix of abstraction and mark-making. And throughout, she presents nature as both wild and comforting.
Other work, such as Perilous Walk Home, Immigrants, and Migrants sets all this aside. Large, done in a moody palette, with crowded figures in distress, these works are dramatic, political, allegorical, the triptych immediately catching the viewer’s eye when entering the gallery. In Perilous Walk Home, blues and greens immerse the viewer in a dark drama of figures in confusion, an uneasy explosion of yellows and pinks in the middle. The vibrations of the spot arrangements guide the eye, with the wind blowing toward the girl walking in the dark to the right. The work has a sense of magic and peril in its overall atmosphere.
Even more unsettling, the large drawings directly present a kind of massive catastrophe. Hundreds of figures, each outlined in oranges and blues, present the viewer with a whirlpool of misery. The treatment of the figures is uniform, emphasizing the totality of the scene – and the totality of the collective unhappiness. The work of Bosch comes to mind, as do the displacements of our time. Overall, an unusually versatile show, stark and powerful, pleasing and comforting, and always very well painted, or, in the case of the drawings, very well worked out.