Sue Scott Gallery

Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting

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Barry Schwabsky, Editor
Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting, p. 208-209, January 2002

Walking down any street in a city, one can overhear many snippets of conversation, most of them startling and funny outside of their context. It is the non sequitur, the overheard, the decontextualized fragment that figures in Suzanne McClelland's language-based abstractions. Since the early 1990s, she has been refining her ambitious, gestural, all-over abstract paintings, integrating conceptual elements, material concerns, and a continued, passionate interest in words.

Conversation, unlike written language, is not set in place, not lying on a page to be read from left to right. Its syntax can be loose, its flow interrupted. McClelland's paintings are an analogue of this rhythmic quality of the conversational mode: words are rendered upside down, backwards, and repeated in chains that alternate between the abstract, painted language of drips and graffiti and that which is recognizable as speech. She blurs the distinctions between these "systems," opening both to a form of "word" play. McClelland unpacks cliches, which are more often heard than read, and consequently reveals how normative and indiscriminate they are. By focusing on a single word or phrase and its possible variations—anymore, yes, and else—she explores the words and individual letters in a group of works that are stylistically related. One such series is "Plot" (2000), in which the idiomatic phrase "boys will be boys" is parsed out. (These and McClelland's newer paintings are lighter and brighter in palette and more open compositionally, indicating a recent shift her continuously evolving style.) McClelland reclaims the overused phrase (an irritating excuse for male behavior0 by subjecting it to her own rules. Through a kind of aesthetic reordering, the words become a gestural sequence that can be broken down anagrammatically: boyswillbeboysbecauseweletthem.

McClelland consistently engages varied conceptual approaches. For her project at the Whitney Museum at Phillip Morris in 1992, the artist executed a large-scale painting entirely on site, utilizing the exhibition spaces she would a studio. The installation encompassed three existing walls of the gallery as well as a number of pieces of drywall, which could be moved around and stacked by choice. Th floor was covered with cardboard during the production of the work, recording its progression with splashes and splatters of color and paint-footprints; at the time of the opening it was decided this residual diary of the work's making would remain for the duration of the show. One of her most unusual projects involved the ritualistic burial of her art. McClelland produced four drawings on canvas and asked a group of friends to bury the works in different  U.S. States (Florida, California, New York, and Washington), devising their own ritual for doing so and recording the episodes on camera, then delivering the videotapes to the artist. The following  spring, McClelland went to see the site and dug up the drawings to see how they had been altered by environmental changes. Such sustained explorations of notions of site, process, and experience distinguish McClelland's approach to abstraction.

--Meghan Dailey