Holding Color, Material, and Light - Suzan Frecon Paintings at David Zwirner

Suzan Frecon is a master of nuance. She recently opened her first ever solo exhibition in Asia, at the Hong Kong location of David Zwirner gallery. The exhibition itself is subtle—half a dozen paintings hung generously spaced, one to a wall. Yet, despite its simplicity, the exhibition is also weighty and complex. The weightiness comes from the intensity of the compositions. The forms Frecon has coaxed into existence on these paintings create their own emotional gravity. They even seem to exert a pull on the architecture, holding the room in place as though it was always meant to support them. The complexity of the exhibition comes from the depth Frecon cajoles from her paint. At first glance, the optical information on the surfaces seems sparse: a biomorphic shape on a monochromatic ground. But the more you look, the more detail is revealed as the light works its magic on the paint. These paintings are not seeking to be described so much as they are hoping to be experienced on a visceral level. They work best when you give them time, perhaps because Frecon also took her time making them, often beginning with sketches in her notebook and then testing the idea out on a small scale with watercolors. Even once she begins the process of actually translating the idea into a large-scale painting, the process still does not speed up. If anything it slows down. Layers of paint are washed on to the surface, building towards some moment when the color and material become one. The forms are nurtured and massaged, oozing into their final state like primordial icons. What Frecon ends up with each time is a complete abstraction: a painting that although visual does not show a picture of anything, despite somehow still offering a glimpse of what is beyond what the eyes can see.

Holding Color, Material, and Light - Suzan Frecon Paintings at David Zwirner

The Four Elements

As much as she is a painter, Frecon is also a sort of alchemist. She mixes four elements—light, color, material, and composition—in an effort to transform them into something akin to visual gold. Her process does not begin with an image in her mind that she wants to create. Rather, it begins with an idea about an experience she wants to manifest. That experience may have to do with a feeling, or a sensation, or it may have to do with a state of mind. In order to make it manifest, she contemplates how different colors affect the mind, and how light and materiality affect the way colors are perceived. She contemplates how much of each color might be needed in order for the desired effect to be achieved. Finally, she experiments with shapes and compositional arrangements in search of a visual order that conveys her desired experience.


Gallery view of oil work by American contemporary artist Suzan FreconSuzan Frecon - installation view at David Zwirner Hong Kong. Photo courtesy David Zwirner Hong Kong


Each of her four key elements has a role to play in her process. The light source in the exhibition space is a particularly important factor. Frecon prefers natural light, so the experience will change as the weather and time of day changes. She uses a mixture of matte paints and glossy paints, so that the material qualities of the paint can empower the forms and the grounds to interact differently with the eye. As the light hits the paintings, it is as if these different surface qualities are collaborating with the various color relationships to hit different emotional notes. The composition sings in a visual kind of way. If the experience Frecon has set out to achieve has something to do with a feeling of harmony, the composition will of course evolve differently than if the desired experience has something to do with dissonance. Either way, human participation is essential. The painting is a success if it captivates the eye long enough for the full range of the human experience to develop.


Oil work by American artist Suzan Frecon gallerySuzan Frecon - installation view at David Zwirner Hong Kong. Photo courtesy David Zwirner Hong Kong


Inside and Outside

The paintings currently on view in Hong Kong offer a perfect introduction to what Frecon can do. Because they are few in number and generously spaced out, their presentation allows viewers to develop longer relationships with each composition. Time is essential to what these works have to express. Yet these are not transcendental objects, like, for example, the paintings of Mark Rothko. They are not intended necessarily to be used as meditative intermediaries. Whereas a Color Field artist like Rothko might want viewers to be pulled into an inner world of their own mind, Frecon is using plastic means to create an outer world of intellect and emotion. She is attempting to connect with something specific, and to extend that connection outward from the painting towards the viewer. She is a master at conveying exact emotion through color, light, form and composition, and she is an expert at convincing viewers to go along with her on her way.


Oil work by American artist in gallerySuzan Frecon - installation view at David Zwirner Hong Kong. Photo courtesy David Zwirner Hong Kong


However, it really does not matter whether you end up feeling the way Frecon wants you to feel when you look at her works. It is of no importance whether the type of experience you have when looking at her works is the type of experience she is prescribing. The point is simply that you slow down and look at the works long enough to experience something—to grasp the nuances of the light, the interactions of the colors and surface qualities, the textures and subtleties of the materials, and the harmonies or dissonances of the composition. The works took a long time to evolve, and they an equal investment of time in order to work their magic on the eyes. So just give the works what they need from you, and give them a chance to express in return everything they have to share. Slowing down is what matters. Suzan Frecon at David Zwirner Hong Kong is on view through 30 June 2018.



Featured image: Suzan Frecon - installation view at David Zwirner Hong Kong. Photo courtesy David Zwirner Hong Kong

By Phillip Barcio