Susan Schuler, abstract painter, has moved to Albuquerque. For the light. For the glorious southwestern sunlight, clarity intact, that has bedazzled artists since at least the 19th century.
Schuler, widely traveled, is a sophisticated judge of sunlight and its artistic uses. A Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area native, children now grown, she last year packed up and moved to New Mexico but her work continues to be seen at Malton Gallery, 3804 Edwards Road. Right now a matched pair of her paintings is featured in the street-side window and several others are in the current gallery hanging. More can be seen in the informal space of the gallery’s lower floor.
Schuler’s paintings are abstract, but like much abstract art are closer to their sources than first glance would reveal. They are layered, rough-textured from objects incorporated into the paint and from the fact that she often builds on earlier work. She has written “The paintings’ textures are composed of exotic papers, threads, rubbings, photographs, found objects and oil on canvas.”
Among the found objects in one of the front window-displayed works is a butterfly wing, not recognizable until the second glance. These two paintings, each 40 inches by 40 inches, are titled respectively “Waterfall” and “Through My Window” and incorporate encaustic (hot wax) with oil paint on canvas. The works are related in their bright, light colors, rosy blues and greens touched out with black, and their identical size.
Size is never a given in Schuler’s work. Rather than using already mounted surfaces she turns to custom canvas, stretches it herself “or sometimes we stretch it for her,” says Sylvia Rombis, director of Malton Gallery. This gives Schuler ultimate liberty in determining size and shape Aside from the square paintings in the window, I also saw a pair of horizontal works (numbers 1 and 3 from a series called “Wonderland”), each 20 inches high by 84 inches wide. They are predominately blue, incorporating more shades of blue than the color wheel might suggest.
The largest of her paintings out the day I was there was “Rain Forest,” oil on canvas, from her Water Garden Series. It leaned against a wall – none of the Schuler pieces I saw were framed – taller than I am by more than a foot (84 inches) and 60 inches wide, which is also wider than I am, I’m glad to say. Again, blues dominate but greens and other colors also play their roles in the over-all effect. Her shapes are teasing; a viewer looking closely can find surprising things. Rombis and I, parsing out a work heavy on yellows, oranges, reds and centered by black, found a person, in profile, seated in a chair. Or not. One gets the impression that the artist wants you to find your own meaning, and whatever you find you are welcome to it. She delights, I suspect, in a multitude of possible readings.
But the basic pleasure, the continuing joy, is the interaction of these colors and shapes, their wordless relationships that make looking endlessly seductive to the beholder. Will the moods, the emotional responses change with the move to New Mexico? It will be interesting to see.
Malton Gallery is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.