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September Art Column

Suzan Woodruff, “Dragon’s Eye,” 2016, mixed media, 24 inches by 25 inches. – Courtesy photo

Suzan Woodruff, “Dragon’s Eye,” 2016, mixed media, 24 inches by 25 inches. – Courtesy photo


By Jeff Davis

“Properties of Light,” featuring the works of Suzan Woodruff and Brad Howe, is now on exhibit at George Billis Gallery in Culver City through Oct. 22.

Woodruff’s new work is especially eye-catching; the pigments swirl in fractal patterns across her traditional flat panels or the more recent convex discs and acrylic surfaces.

The artist uses a patented “Gravity Easel” to control her hand mixed pigments and media in a “controlled chaos” process that results in stunning portraits. Although she doesn’t like to reveal too much about the somewhat secretive process (many would love to copy it), one can imagine her “spinning wet plates of paint” using a souped-up version of BRIO’s Labyrinth game from the 1940s (a hand controlled multi-directional tilting, whirling maze). I plan to buy the home edition of the Easel when Parker Brothers releases it later this year (I wish!). There is a fantastic video on her website “Looming Atmospheres” that gives you a glimpse of the technique in action.

The newer works on discs seem to emulate the churning surfaces of Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and other gaseous planets, while those painted on acrylic boxes have become more transparent and luminous, as light can now enter the sides and shine through the surface toward the viewer. Having perfected her process with standard matte finish, Woodruff has now added additional effects, including both higher gloss finishes and others with layers of resin built up on top of the work’s surface for added dimension.


Suzan Woodruff, “Properties of Heat,” 2016, mixed media, 24 inches by 25 inches. – Courtesy photo

Suzan Woodruff, “Properties of Heat,” 2016, mixed media, 24 inches by 25 inches. – Courtesy photo


The majority of the paintings seem to evoke references to the environment or nature. Woodruff’s blue and white dominated paintings often remind me of chilling arctic waters or scuba exploration through deep ocean caves, while the green/blue/purple combinations appear more topographical, as if shot from a spy satellite 1,000 miles up in orbit.

They are reminiscent of Google Earth shots of rivers merging into an open body of water; think of the Mississippi draining into the Gulf of Mexico or the Ganges River Delta. The red/gold/yellow-based paintings take on a heat signature – molten, viscous, steaming, swirling gases viewed from a cross-section of a volcano.

Others seem to veer away from Earth-based natural phenomena and feel more ethereal, suggesting space, the atmosphere, or vaporous nebulas shot from the Hubble Space Telescope.

When looking at Woodruff’s paintings, my eyes always seem to try to translate or fit them into a more familiar frame of reference – water, sky, fire, or Earth.

It’s hard to view at them as simply abstract when you can see physics, gravity, and geometry at work. Although the works appear very random and uncontrolled, after a decade of practice Woodruff is almost always in absolute command of the process. She is constantly adapting to variability and mutations as they present themselves and reasserting direction into the system; conducting the symphony of fluid color until the denouement. Whether driven by the artist’s hand or nature’s, the results are often stunning.


Sophia Allison, “Untitled,” handmade paper on wood, 2016. – Courtesy photo

Sophia Allison, “Untitled,” handmade paper on wood, 2016. – Courtesy photo


Other Opportunities:

– S+P=A (Systems+Process=Aesthetics) will run from Oct. 21 through Dec. 3 at Surrogate Gallery Projects. The gallery is located at 686 E. Union Street, Unit #1, in Pasadena. S+P=A is a group exhibition of artists whose works reference structures, systems, and formulaic methods in their creative practices. Some of the artworks evidence a systematic structure in the work itself by creating geometric patterns with topographical mapping associations (Sophia Allison) or, in paintings that jump and flicker, mirroring the electrical path along neurons (Yaron Dotan). There are many other artists featured that explore “Systems and Process” in differing ways, including: Amy Green, Emily Blythe Jones, Vida Liu, Duane Paul, and Brian Mallman. Opening reception will be held on Oct. 21, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., with a musical performance by Richard Marchetta.

– The MAFA (Monrovia Association of Fine Arts) will be celebrating its 53rd annual Art Show and Chalkfest on Oct. 29, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Oct. 30, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., in Monrovia Liberty Park (321 S. Myrtle Ave.).

The theme this year is “Art in Motion.” The show will feature quality entertainment, a beer garden, kids chalk art activities, a collectible book sale in the Monrovia Library, a robotics demonstration and urban art project by Monrovia high school students, and, of course, the ever-popular food trucks. This year’s featured artists are Steve and Marianne McCarthy.

If you have feedback or exhibits that I should review, please let me know by sending an email to: jeffdavis.2001@gmail.com.

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