Lower Manhattan Spaces
Upon entering Suzanne Sunshine’s current exhibition, her latest series of paintings Lower Manhattan Spaces burst into our vision with audacious zeal. These recent large-scale paintings, created especially for this exhibition in the lobby of 45 Broadway in downtown Manhattan, are among the most dynamic the artist has done to date. They resound with vigor and with determination. The paintings feel immediate and monumental, but upon closer look, the subtleties and nuances gradually reveal themselves. They slowly change and deepen as we look at them.
Sunshine’s early paintings integrated words and poetry in the images. Now the images have become sounds and sensations. Simultaneously raucous and subdued, these pulsating intertwinings of contrasting color create an unexpected mix in her paintings. The forms she creates are at once cerebral and dreamed, sharp and defined. Positive Spaces (2016), a four-part painting, is a jubilant confrontation of dancing fluid floral forms with hard-edged shapes. The more we look, the more the multilayered surfaces pull us in, weaving color and form.
Art historical references also inform the work (artists as diverse as William Baziotes, Roy Lichtenstein, with whom Sunshine worked, Richard Pousette-Dart, Ad Reinhardt, Sol Lewitt, Paul Cézanne and Willem de Kooning are all huge influences) but the paintings are absolutely Sunshine’s own—personal and deeply felt.
But, above all, life experiences are palpable here and intrinsic to the work. Sunshine herself is unceasingly present in these paintings. Her life-long knowledge of architectural spaces and structures propel her innate understanding of the canvas shape. The same drive and sense of complete engagement that motivate her philanthropic and humanitarian work (with global and national cultural, human rights and gender nonprofits, NGOs and Foundations) are also an integral part of her painting. Perhaps this dual sense of artistic and humanitarian engagement is really the force behind her creativity. Sunshine could not have painted these paintings without experiencing first-hand the extremes of what she has seen, felt and experienced throughout her life. Personal turbulence is sensed, but also an artist at peace with herself. We feel the serenity of Central Park in her harmonious tonalities as well as the struggles she viewed firsthand in Colombia, expressed by the dissonance of colors and clashing of forms. The soul-searching Sunshine has done to better define her art, herself and her commitments to others is all part of her painting.
In witnessing the pictorial space of her canvases, we ourselves become part of a larger more universal and open-ended space. The paintings envelope us, both by their scale and by their intensity. They extend beyond the shapes of the canvases and fill the room. They are at once powerful, delicate and very determined.
The plenitude of inventive forms and rich colors reflect Sunshine’s deep passions and convictions. Her generosity of being and warmth are behind these paintings, giving them their force. Lower Manhattan Spaces demand multiple viewings to reveal the paintings’ intricacies and complexities. Sunshine creates forms that move and bend, appear and disappear. Her paintings feel essential and infinite.
New York, May 1, 2016
Adrienne Farb is a New York and Paris based artist. Adrienne Farb studied art history with Kermit Champa, the eminent art historian of 19th and 20th century art, at Brown University. He is an integral part of her paintings.This essay is devoted to his memory.