New York

Suzan Frecon, stone cathedral, 2019, diptych, oil on linen, overall 108 1⁄2 × 87 3⁄4".

Suzan Frecon, stone cathedral, 2019, diptych, oil on linen, overall 108 1⁄2 × 87 3⁄4".

Suzan Frecon

The constraints levied against female abstract painters in New York during the postwar decades resulted in their near-total marginalization. Nevertheless, they persisted. The situation seems unfathomable, but such was the depth of this historical amnesia that by the 1960s and ’70s women were disparaged for “painting like men,” which was idiotic given how prominently they figured as producers and innovators in vanguard abstraction. Special reverence is due the female artists who, continuing on their paths of invention, set up studios in Lower Manhattan—a boys’ club—despite the blatant sexism they experienced for this initiative. Marcia Hafif, Louise Fishman, and Suzan Frecon—to shout out but a few—were among them. Each laid claim to a legacy that had previously been reserved for men only.

Although Frecon exhibited frequently in New York’s downtown scene of the ’80s and ’90s and benefited from her association with the neo-geo movement (even though she never really belonged to it), she’s not as widely known as she should be. This is unfortunate, considering the outstanding caliber of her work, which—across nine paintings made between 2018 and 2019—was on full display at David Zwirner. Her big bright canvases sport idiosyncratic yet organic shapes that pop against empty grounds, beckoning the viewer to come closer with their seductive simplicity. Their tactile surfaces—from matte to shiny, translucent to opaque, dull to luminous—are cultivated through multiple layers of paint. The immediate overall effect of Frecon’s paintings can be good-humored, even whimsical, but that sensibility belies the laborious methods she employs for grinding her own pigments and precisely mapping her compositions before she begins production. She makes painting look easy—but that’s part of the artful ruse she orchestrates. The paintings reward sustained engagement: The longer we look, the more we are able to see.

In addition to their uniform size—roughly nine by seven feet high or wide, depending on orientation—the works are all are diptychs, and their junctures interact with the elegantly misshapen humps, blobs, blips, ellipses, and wedges that animate Frecon’s surfaces. Orange and bluebird blue illumination, 2019, sizzles with hot chromatics: A radiant blue ground is coupled with a lumpy half circle painted a blazing tangerine that swells to fill the upper register, as if it were emerging from the diptych seam itself. Frecon repeats this “rising sun” motif in yellow lantern, 2018—rendered in a rich harvest gold that vibrates against a serene blue-black background—and again in mars stealing the night, 2019, in which a Brobdingnagian navy bulge shimmers upon a brilliant field of molten orange.

Frecon produces a lot of action. This liveliness imbues her forms—many of which feel swiped from the panels of Krazy Kat—with a subtle humor. The works’ comic demeanor is also fueled by the irregularities of their facture—the product of a hand that is equal parts rigorous and rambunctious. Indeed, what looks like a quick, off-the-cuff approximation that isn’t “quite right” is anything but accidental. Frecon’s “amateurism” is practiced, sophisticated, imbued by art history as well as by her own decades-long investigations into the physical properties and intellectual dimensions of her chosen medium. She is always in control, and here she orchestrated yet again a master class in vision and perception.