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Susan Chrysler White, Iowa City Painter

posted on June 17, 2007 at 8:17 AM


Susan Chrysler White is an artist and University of Iowa professor. Her vivacious many-layered works have the power to awaken all of our senses.

Chrysler White: My work is about excess, and I'm very interested in abundance and a lot and things that are quite extreme. And they're made out of pure chaos. Everything is just poured. They're just these kind of paint blobs, by pouring something onto a sheet of paper and then just printing it onto the painting.

And I was interested in that duality, that it appeared to be something that it wasn't, that it could be something else. It is sort of just paint kind of, you know, colliding on a sheet of paper, but at the same time I very kind of carefully apply it to the painting.

They become decals, many of them. Some of them I directly paint and do a kind of Rorschach with the canvas itself, but a lot of them are applied as decal attachments to the painting afterwards and cut out and allow the paper to be removed and then just sort of decaled onto the painting.

I'm interested in finding imagery and symbols that resonate in a way that one might be able to make those leaps to other potential reads in the painting. I don't want to be too oblique about it but just so that you begin to think, well, why would she do that?

I'm engaged in the world. I've lived a lot in different places in the world, and I'm always engaged in politics and in what's happening sort of sociologically and culturally and anthropologically.

My kids began using the computers and began doing math systems on the computers and different kind of math programming and gaming on the computer. And I spent a lot of time sort of mesmerized. I was a blown away at the animation that took place in these game systems, and I just realized it was one of those sort of structures that I loved where images would transform themselves through movement up and down on the screen. I just picked that up very literally and began employing it.

I'm allowing myself to sort of open up to thinking very differently about doing commissions, public commissions and how they -- how the people with them might interact. The one that I did at Oncology Radiation, it took me several weeks to install it.

And I had a lot of people come in daily to have their radiation treatment, and a number of the people I knew. And I realized the sort of -- the enormity of it all. You know, here I am doing this piece, and little by little I had people come and stop and say this reminds me of my childhood, of this and that. I've had a really profound relationship to the idea of working with public work.

I like the provocative aspect of it too, the fact that it provokes. It provokes people that are walking around. It provokes them. They get grumpy about it. They want to know why it's called art or what is it, what's my relationship to it. You know, any number of reasons. I'm interested in that. It just brings the discussion of the discourse out into the public in a way that oftentimes it doesn't.

Art tends to be a discrete object that's bought by elite collectors or some kind of collector and left wherever. I'm interested in it having a life outside.

One of things that's been kind of hard moving my studio home in this cramped quarters here is the fact that I really do love working on a number of paintings at once. I can feel very restricted in the process of trying anything and everything with the painting if I just have one painting that I'm working on.

So I have these two that I'm working on right now. Oftentimes I'll have three or four, two small ones, a drawing, and some large ones that I'm working on.

The down side of that is that the work can end up feeling like one piece that got revolved kind of evenly from painting the painting. But I think the interesting thing is that it allows you to be much freer. You know, you start one, you begin to get a little bit frozen with it or a little bit tentative with it, and it allows you to just sort of blow into another one and just really make it happen.

I think also revisiting work is interesting. You can grow and really know more. I could say that I work with my students and I often talk about that to them, that they might be able to look at a piece but really not see the piece until much later or see the complexity of the piece. It happens all the time. And that's I think what keeps us making work and what keeps us involved. If it was just a first-shot hit and I get it and I'm on, I wouldn't be interested in working in that field.

This is about accumulating over time a kind of understanding sort of aesthetic or a kind of understanding of the sort of history of painting or the history of visual language in being able to kind of really grow with it and see the more you know, the more you're getting from it. You sort of hope your work has that. I know that really great work that I look at over and over again certainly has that.

I'm hoping that the decorative element sort of seduces you and then, as you stay with it a little bit, that you begin to move into what could be considered maybe the darker side of that or the more complex sort of weave of that, the fact that it's begging you to enter but asking you some questions about it.

Tags: art artists Iowa Iowa City painters

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