oil and acrylic on canvas

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Susanna Bluhm – Statement, June 2014

My paintings tend to be related in some way to my physical environments and experience of them. Also, they are experiments in creating new environments. An individual painting can become a new place in itself, with sensations of things that might happen in a place, such as weather, touch, landscape, temperature, sex, or noise.  Abstract marks interact with more recognizable shapes, and a kind of narrative ensues.

Source material I draw from when I’m painting often includes photographs I’ve taken of places I’ve been, books of signs and symbols from various cultures and religions, and color combinations I’ve seen in nature and in my environment that I’ve remembered.

When talking or writing about my work, I stray from defining the narratives in a literal way. Instead, I try to describe them as I see them, both as the person that made them and decided they make sense, and also as a witness to the end result.

For example: chunks of stripes make me think of geometric abstraction, puppy-faced with acceptance of its bipolar tendencies of stoicism or playfulness. A snake might represent fear and rebirth (based on both Western and Eastern mythologies). A tangerine sky reminds me of sunset. When chunks of stripes rubs up against the snake under a tangerine sky, the landscape seems to take on the patterned markings of the snake, which makes me think that the landscape has become the snake, or maybe the snake ate the landscape. A leaky hose has clumsily but mightily produced an ocean. The tongue coming out of a paint stroke tangle with chunky blossoms seems to have licked away a spot of sky.

My most recent paintings are based on my experience of Yosemite National Park in California—as a child visiting with my family every year from Los Angeles, and as an adult in 2013 with my wife and son. Anchored by landscape, the paintings take stock of the imagery—with its inherent meanings—of Yosemite, including the imagery my family brought with us, and what we found there in the 1980s, as well as what we brought and found there in this decade. Clumps of sienna corduroy huddle next to granite rocks and fake Indian feathers.  The gray, checkered pattern of my son’s jacket from Costco emerges from a trail with wildflowers. A fake teepee rests in the forest behind a meadow of lupine flowers. Ghosts with vibrating bunny ears (vulnerable) and open eyes (wise) peer out at me from the forest.

I think of both painting and looking as pleasureful experiences.