Anita Shapolsky Gallery, New York, NY
Until May 1
By PETER FRANK April, 2021
Even as the art market dominates the art world with spectacles of consumption, from billion-dollar auctions to billion-dollar NFTs, an undercurrent of spiritual fervor stubbornly maintains. Especially after a year of social and personal deprivation and upheaval, artists convey the sense that there is more to life than stuff, more to art than trophies and tokens. This makes Lorien Suarez-Kanerva an artist for our times; long dedicated as an abstractionist to the ineffable quality/ies of life, she finds her passion for the transcendental echoed and unfolded in the thinking of earlier thinker-seekers such as Henry David Thoreau, Carl Jung, and Paul Klee.
In Suarez’s painting, an example of which is featured in the accrochage “Precious Gems” at Anita Shapolsky Gallery until May 1, the pulse of the unseen is as evident as the elegance of the seen. The southern-California-based Suarez looks entirely at home amongst the New York painters two or three generations her senior who predominate in Shapolsky’s group. In all three of the series currently preoccupying her Suarez maintains a faith in the power of pure, self-defining form and color to stir the viewer’s sensibilities. She allows for inevitable associations with the “real” world, but in at least two of her series she brings us quickly beyond the picturesque and towards an immersion – immersion of eye and ultimately of soul – in non-objective phenomena. The third series relies on stylized tree forms as its conceptual as well as physical armature; but here, too, Suarez’s process dissolves the specific into the universal, and the trunk-and-branch image becomes a framework for the exploration of non-specific visual stimulus.
Where Suarez diverges from most of the other artists in “Precious Gems” (Nassos Daphnis a notable exception) is in her avoidance of gesture. New York abstract expressionism may stand, for Suarez as well as us, as an assertion of artistic ethics; but she and a very few others in the exhibition demonstrate that the existential drama of studio practice is not the only means of seeking a deeper awareness of art and life. The search can take place, Suarez avers, in the painting’s own existentiality, in the grasp of optical and extra-optical fundaments the painting communicates from maker to beholder – and back to itself. The painting is not a depiction of a higher state, but, much like a photograph of the universe, insists that higher states exist and our sentient path leads to them.
Especially for a New York audience, Suarez’s metaphysical aspirations – and, indeed, her formal language and even palette – likely suggest as predecessor the similarly luminous geometric structures of Hilma af Klint. To be sure, the latter-day painter recognizes a kinship with the fin-de-siècle Swedish mystic. But Suarez worked for years on her “Wheel Within a Wheel” series without the slightest knowledge of af Klint’s obscured achievement. And in the more recently begun series, “Elan Flow” and “Wooded Terrain,” there is if anything a more pointed effort to achieve different effects, and infer different conditions, with the geometric vocabulary Suarez knowingly inherited from Klee, Vasily Kandinsky, Frantisek Kupka, and other pioneers of the non-objective – now including af Klint.
Suarez’s neo-modernist bona fides are evident, but what’s important to know – and to derive from her art – is not the shape of her visual language so much as it is what poetry is being wrung from that language. It is a poetry not just of form, but of seeing through form towards a more vibrant existence. These may be pictures of that existence, but it is best to think of them as maps of your own terrae incognitae, by which one might navigate towards that existence – and back again. By claiming Thoreau, Jung, and Klee as her spiritual mentors, Suarez advocates for achieving a higher plane without leaving this one – indeed, enriching this one by accessing the other. Her paintings are meant to provide such access, or at least provoke our understanding that such access is desirable and possible. WM
PETER FRANK is an art critic, curator, and editor based in Los Angeles, where he serves as Associate Editor of Fabrik Magazine. He began his career in his native New York, where he wrote for The Village Voice and The SoHo Weekly News and organized exhibitions for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Alternative Museum. He is former Senior Curator at the Riverside (CA) Art Museum and former editor of Visions Art Quarterly and THEmagazine Los Angeles, and was art critic for LA Weekly and Angeleno Magazine. He has worked curatorially for Documenta, the Venice Biennale, and many other national and international venues. (Photo: Eric Minh Swenson)
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