Introducing: Susan English

 Intervals No. 6, tinted polymer on panel, 24 x 60 inches.

Foster/White Gallery is thrilled to announce the newest addition to the gallery's roster of artists: Susan English. English is known for her distinct color field pieces created using thin layers of tinted polymer. English works out of New York and exhibited her work nationally. Her pieces have featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, art fairs, and articles. She received an MFA from Hunter College in New York City and a BA from Hamilton College, Clinton, NY.

Foster/White Gallery interviewed English in advance of her solo feature in gallery which opens First Thursday, April 4 and runs until Saturday, April 20.


 Photo credit to Dmitri Kasterine.

Foster/White Gallery: Will you tell us a little bit about your process?

Susan English: Over the past decade, I have developed a process of pouring transparent layers of tinted polymer on panel and Yupo paper. I work on a flat surface and pour the material onto the panel, tilt the panel to move the material around - often letting the material collect along an edge. I shim the panel so it stays in that fixed position to dry for approximately 24 hours. The collected material along the edge creates the gradation in the paintings. I use two different mediums, matte and glossy which react differently to the light and impact color slightly differently as well. Sometimes a painting will have many layers and other times of painting will come together quite quickly. Many of the paintings consist of multiple panels. Another aspect of my process is playing with the sequence of the panels. The order of the panels is not determined until the painting is finished, at which point I assemble them.



F/WG: Many of our abstract artists began their careers depicting representational forms to then move towards abstraction. Has your work made a similar evolution? How have your pieces evolved over time?

SE: In my early 20's I made representational paintings of interiors that had the seeds of abstraction in them. I constructed the interiors with flat areas of color and was drawn to an economy of means. There have been many series that I have moved through prior to doing what I do now, but what is consistent in all of these is an interest in color and surface, and light and space. I evolved into doing abstraction quite young and was drawn to abstract work as a teenager. When I was in high school, I had an epiphany while looking at Barnett Newman's Stations of the Cross in the National Gallery in Washington, DC. The paintings suddenly made complete sense to me and in ways felt more "real" than representation.



F/WG: I read that you paint plein air watercolors. How do these translate to your polymer pieces?

SE: Yes, I mostly do the plein air watercolors up in Maine at a "camp" (non-winterized, rustic building) that has been in my family since the 40's. This place is special to me and a landscape that lives in my memory and which I also continue to experience and absorb in real time. It is a muse I draw on for inspiration in terms of color, light and space. The process of watercoloring is a deep immersion into this landscape. When I am back home, I put the watercolors on my studio wall. I respond sometimes directly - in that a particular passage or color or light quality will be a point of departure for painting, but also indirectly as they exist in my peripheral vision.



F/WG: What are some of the challenges working with the materials you use?

SE: Many of the challenges that I face with my materials are technical. Because it is a process that I essentially invented, I can't find out answers by googling it! So, it has been a trial-and-error process all the way along. I use a Golden medium and a couple of years ago they changed the formula - my entire process had been based on that particular formula which they no longer produced! It was incredibly problematic for me for a while and now I have the product custom made. Another challenging aspect is the wait time. A pour takes 24 hours to dry. I'm generally an impatient person and there's a kind of irony to the fact that my decisions have to proceed slowly. For example, when I look at a panel and make a decision about a color, I mix the color, pour the panel, then have to wait until the next morning to see what the color and the pour will look like. If I was painting in a conventional way with a brush, I would make a mark and see immediately what this mark looked like - whether it worked or didn’t work - so sometimes I feel frustrated by the pace. But in this world of instant gratification, I think being slowed down is a also gift.



F/WG: What is it about your materials that fascinates and draws you to them?

SE: When I pour my material on a panel or a piece of Yupo paper - I’m observing what it is doing as it spreads over the surface and then anticipating and imagining how it will look when it dries. I find this to be pretty exciting. I have a limited number of pours I can do in a day, as I have a large flat table and once the table is filled, that's it. I circle back around later in the day to check on things. It's very much a watching, observing process. It's also about the unpredictability of what's going to happen - coming in the next day there is a feeling of anticipation and excitement. It can be disappointing or remarkable or somewhere in between but rarely is it exactly what I had speculated. Also, sometimes, things happen that lead me in a different direction or show me something about the material that surprises me. All of this engages my interest.



F/WG: To what degree does unpredictability play in your final work?

SE: When the painting is complete, there is a very precise relationship between the colors and the panels and so there's nothing random about that part of it. It's more that it's like an editing process that has involved unpredictability in the pours along the way.  Or the unpredictability might impact the direction of a work.



F/WG: How do you envision your audience engaging with your work?

SE: It is my hope that my audience will be both moved and stimulated by my work. I like to think, that in general, artwork is generous, giving something to the viewer. This is my experience when I look at work that I love. I have works by artists in my home that I never tire of - it continually gives. I hope this is the case with my own work.  People often describe my work as calm and beautiful. I'm not a particularly calm person and calm can seem a bit boring to me. I think the works have an underlying complexity that is more than calm. But, that said, I am happy that I am able to offer a reflective and quiet space for viewers. I think too, that the paintings unfold over time as they change in the light and there are subtle color phenomena that cannot be discerned right away. It is my hope that my viewers will have an ongoing relationship to the work, which like any other relationship, evolves.

F/WG: Is there anything you want people to know about your pieces that isn’t touched on or widely known?

SE: I guess in some ways I'd like people to know that my work is hard-won and that my process involves a lot of doing, but a lot of thinking and looking as well. I have a morning ritual of taking my second cup of coffee to the studio, sitting in my chair and looking. It is one of my favorite parts of the day.



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