Holding Their Own: Suzan Frecon’s Works on Paper
Suzan Frecon: Paper at David Zwirner
February 13 to March 23, 2013
525 West 19th Street , between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212 727 2070
Being in Suzan Frecon’s show at David Zwirner is a bit like entering a conversation unnoticed. Her small watercolors and painted panels, each holding their own on the wall, banter with confidence. While they don’t exactly clamor for attention, their loose shapes and lush colors are gently alluring.
The show exudes a variety of sensations: somber and lighthearted, depressed and playful. Overall, however, bright pops of yellow, blue, and the occasional green keep the muted browns and burnt reds from overwhelming. With shapes that are neither quite organic or geometric Frecon achievesresoundingly strong composition. red blue blue (2012), for instance, a two-toned, horizontal watercolor, fills its old Indian paper support with ink, conflating common formal binaries such as background/foreground, positive/negative space, or representation/abstraction. The orientation and earthy colors suggest a landscape, but the paint application doesn’t contain enough detail to confirm that impression. For Frecon this is deeply important as she has spoken of her striving to eliminate associations from her imagery—in much the way as the Minimalists did, except in her case the results are not sterile. I would argue that Frecon has much more emotional breadth than, say, Donald Judd or Dan Flavin, on view at David Zwirner’s new 20th street space.
Compositions like horizontally extended orange (patched) (2011) are unhindered by the paper: the small scale does not negate expansiveness. Others, however, especially those where colored shapes do not reach the paper’s edge, can seem restrictive. In any event, thanks to Frecon’s use of old handmade Japanese, Chinese, and Indian papers, no watercolor is overly pristine. The edges are not quite straight; there are dings and small holes; some are cockled even. But her paper invariably has a soft, wise character in tune with the spiritual quality of her imagery.
Seemingly loose contours obscure a highly deliberative process. painting plan drawing for a large painting (2004) reveals a premeditated approach to every stage in the evolution of a painting. A light pencil grid orients the delicate balance of straight and curved lines. Frecon seems to approach the paper like a canvas. Instead of allowing the ink to bleed with unpredictable fluidity, she chooses a shape and paints evenly and flat. Occasionally the ink pools or the paper resists, but otherwise there is no gesture, gradation, or depth.
Frecon tirelessly pursues her restricted lexicon of shapes and strategies. Within such constraints it is difficult to resist ranking panels over works on paper of similar composition—but this is an unfair bias. In both formats, Frecon uses a sparse palette of reds and oranges that showcases her nuanced understanding of color. But on closer examination, a panel like version o, dark to light (2008) actually predates a few wrongly assumed “studies”.
Whether they let you into their conversation or not, you feel contented in the company of Frecon’s paintings. Their purposeful tensions aren’t heavy handed or solemn. They are peaceful and soothing, even optimistic, as they echo and mingle with one another.