Havana at Malton Gallery

November 24th, 2015  |  Published in November 2015

Susan Schuler’s paintings in the exhibition Havana at Malton Gallery in Hyde Park/Oakley speak for themselves, which is fortunate as the background information I asked for consisted of a statement by the artist relating to an earlier show, and when I requested a press release on this exhibition I was told they no longer do them, that no one pays attention to them. A video has been produced instead, and was emailed to me.  Unfortunately, on my computer the ten-minute video would only play in jerks of several seconds each, cutting the artist off mid-sentence, and would have taken far longer then ten minutes – three quarters of an hour? or more? – to actually distill whatever information is there. Gave up on that, as couldn’t get it to fully load and play. The bio on the artist’s web site apparently dates from five or six years ago, according to its references, so is not up to the minute.

But it’s not bad being left with the paintings. Schuler is an exuberant artist and the culture of Cuba has its own exuberance, so it was a fortuitous meeting. Her visit there earlier this year fueled a stream of paintings in this exhibition filling Malton’s ground floor display space through November 28 and surely available to be seen individually after that.

These are abstract paintings, vibrant pinks and oranges set off by blues and greens with occasional adroitly placed black accents. A surprising number of the works are square, not a shape many artists are comfortable with but one Schuler uses successfully. Another shape she frequently returns to is tall and extremely thin: 84 inches high by 20 inches wide or 72 inches high by 16 inches wide are recurrent sizes. In the gallery window, if you are driving past on Edwards Road, are three of these almost human-shaped canvases, all versions of “Key to the Indies,” in mixed media on canvas.

One of the square works that caught my attention, partly because the palette is pastels rather  than the pulsing colors of most of these pieces, is “Luz de Luna.” It is 30 inches by 30 inches, the broad brush producing a swirl of color that may be a skirt twirling in a dance. A dance, of course, performed under the moon. Dance again figures in the small vertical “Baile de Mujere,” encaustic and oil on bristol board, 36 inches high by 12 inches wide.

Exuberant brush work continues in “Ghost Ranch,” 40 inches by 40 inches, oil on canvas, which to me looks like a still life exploded. I see egg shapes, gourd shapes. . .possibly not the artist’s intent, but there it is.

Some works are titled in Spanish, easily translatable in most cases, and let us know that music, dancers and in one case a zebra have provided initial inspiration. “La Cebra. . .” is part of the title of a painting in which black and white stripes appear within the swirls of vibrant color.

It’s an easy guess that music was part of the scene she is remembering with such delight, even without the cues in the titles. The wide brush strokes and sense of movement easily translate as auditory and well as figurative cues.

Schuler has said, in an artist’s statement of more than ten years ago, that her paintings evolve from drawings, and that drawings are “the shorthand of my feelings and experiences. . .I take the seedling of a thought or feeling and work with it until there is a physical connection on the canvas.” This still is true, judging from Havana, in which emotion and visceral response rule the canvas in a spirited tableau that is likely to make the viewer smile in shared pleasure with the artist.

Malton Gallery is at 3804 Edwards Road, open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

–Jane Durrell

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