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Suzan Frecon’s interplay of geometry and geology, with mineral hues

Suzan Frecon is an abstract painter whose embrace of the medium runs deep. Her preference for mineral hues reflects a fascination with geology. Red oxide—iron without irony—is the hue that visually and metaphorically anchors her palette. At the same time, her work has long been informed by a sophisticated appreciation for the means and methods of painting.

In the current show at Peter Blum, six large paintings are on view. All but one are horizontally stacked diptychs. The picture plane is boldly divided into simple forms. Crescent or dome-like shapes are a favorite motif; interlocking geometric schemes also occur. Their interplay is sedately rhythmic. Frecon’s approach to measurement is basically intuitive. She gives herself permission to use mathematics and echo proportions, yet revise the results according to eye as the last word. Painting, not precept, takes precedence.

Frecon works exclusively in oil and doesn’t hurry the process. Viewers in turn will be rewarded by not trying to hurry the process of looking at her paintings. Hues that appear to be predominantly red and black take on greater nuance after the eyes have had time to adjust. Once they do, the darkest areas reveal their indigo or violet foundations, and harmonize in satisfying ways with neighboring hues of earth red, ultramarine blue, green, yellow, and purple. The overall color saturation tends toward shades rather than tints. Even the bright, opaque cadmium yellows are further saturated, downward, with yellow ochre.

Frecon grinds her own paint and mixes it with a variety of mediums on a marble slab, then applies it to the canvas laid in a horizontal position. Matte is the predominant texture, but waxy surfaces and shiny areas, sometimes raised, occur. One memorable blue area looks like velvety thick pollen. The artist achieves great visual interest through a variety of interlocking forms, close values, and surface texture variations.

Frecon has said that she grew up near an orchard and retains a vivid memory of plums. The plop of a ripe black plum on soft grass might well be heard in a Frecon painting. The multi-toned skins of this fruit, tanned to a suede, buffed to a shine, or preserved in wax seem to abide in her elongated, negative-positive crescent shapes. Elsewhere, a pair of pointed domes conjures up the thought of enormous bells, whose resonance through a landscape would create a sense of spatial roundness.

Frecon was trained in the U.S. and in France during the 1960s, a period when the field of archaeoastronomy was founded. Hints of ancient cosmology tease at the edge of her sensibility. Her paintings add an elemental quality to the dialogue of contemporary abstraction, one that is tangible, luxuriantly slow, and hands-on.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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