Susan Crile

Fischbach Gallery

Susan Crile’s six recent paintings are bird’s-eye views of places where land meets sea. Sandy spits and grassy fingers of land interlock with blue inlets and tidal ponds. She runs rivers and roads across the land, and sounds harbors’ depths with swirling arabesques of turquoise, blue, and purple. There is little of the naive specificity of her earlier aerial landscapes in these littoral scenes. Crile now takes a higher view, as if looking from an airplane rather than from a hill. She spreads her aerial geography over larger canvases, much as in other works exhibited last year, she depicted Persian rugs thrown from one corner of a canvas to another. Though in the recent seascapes nature’s topology is transformed into semiabstract patterns, Crile manages to transmit the sensation of being in nature, not just above it looking down. One can imagine the air blowing off salt water, the heat rising from sand, the dizzying immensity of the cloudless New England summer sky. Her maps glow with a sense of place.

Unlike cartographers, Crile leaves vast areas uncharted or fills in the most trivial details. Wellfleet Harbor, 1974, even shows the yellow line in the middle of a macadam road. The most recent paintings widen the gap between the source in nature and the final semiabstract organization of color and form. In Crossing Over, 1974–75, and Point of Night, 1975, for example, the varying surfaces of land are no longer indicated by varying color and texture. Instead, land masses are left unpainted except for a thin red or pink line for a road or river flung like a sign of exploration across some stark white region. Solid land, profiled only by estuaries and creeks at its edge, is dematerialized so that the whole painting can be thought of as a visionary amalgam of earth, water and sky.

From Crile’s far viewpoint, everything appears to partake of a single order, and one senses that painting this order is a way of participating in it. Loose, soft, feathery strokes of color, recalling the texture of Crile’s pastel drawings, enhance the feeling of ephemerality and continuous change. Land masses seem to flow with the water’s currents. And why not? In tectonic plate theory, continents are as light and frail as lily-pads. Crile does not lay hold of land in her landscapes. Rather she delights in glimpsing how it flows, in an infinite continuum of ocean and air.

Hayden Herrera