New York

Susan Laufer

Germans van Eck Gallery

A fascinating development in current painting is the rise of what I call the sentient image. Part of the reactive fallout from the reductive attitudes of Minimalism, the sentient image, the form that resonates with feeling and a newly aggressive visuality, is a manifestation of today’s desire for a truly serious and meaningful art. It is very much present in the recent paintings and drawings of Susan Laufer, and accounts in no small way for their strong appeal.

Working with a technique recalling fresco on Masonite and wood panels, and incorporating relief elements, this New York artist turns the imposing physicality of her paintings toward implicitly transcendental ends. Like other paintings here the diptych Mirror Image, 1984, uses layers of luminous color to envelop various archetypal shapes which seem embedded in the rich, tactile surfaces. In the left panel, a small upright figure stands on a base which appears to have broken through the thick pictorial skin of the work’s gray ground, a backdrop animated with brilliant touches of yellow and white so that it appears to pulsate in gestural patterns. A shadowy, mummy-like outline in the righthand panel suggests a human figure painted into the vibrant yellow and white surface; here again relief appears, two contoured shapes reminiscent of animal trophies or masks. Though one panel is a little wider than the other, both are the same height; they are joined by a narrow wooden strip painted bright blue. More than a framing device, the wood is an integral part of the composition, serving to pull the panels together optically by drawing the eye toward the painting’s center and emphasizing the tonal values in each panel. This in turn energizes the painting’s forms and structure, bringing out its extraperceptual dimension at the critical juncture where visual information is transformed into sentient image. In other words, we are presented with forms that evoke feeling, with structures that evoke experience. Is the subject at issue in Mirror Image a confrontation of the inner and outer selves, the universal and the individuated person, the conscious and unconscious? What remains important is that Mirror Image, like the triptych Lifeline, 1984, is believable enough to encourage meditative and reflective viewing.

Ronny Cohen