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May 5 - 26, 2007 at Orlando Gallery, Valley

by Ray Zone

With a series of small oil paintings depicting California landscapes, Susan Santiago has integrated a pleasant combination of brightly chromatic brushwork with a subtly reductivist impulse to flat color and geometric design.  The simply titled paintings offer tactile delight in their organization of color and volume, using landscapes--natural and man-made--as their starting point.  Once you get past the quietly poised renditions of nature, there is the intriguing discovery of  an old modernist tactic linking the structure of things in nature to the structure of paint:  bold brushstrokes working in a gestalt of graduated color.  Santiago’s work invokes landscape even as it celebrates the act of painting itself.

“Dark Tree” is a good example of Santiago’s deceptive simplicity.  The leafless branches of a black tree spread to all four sides of the painting.  Through the interstices of the sinewy branches, graduated color leads the eye into the distance with a modulation of light purple to luminous orange.  The sky, perceived through the topmost winding branches, modulates from light blue to cobalt.  It is a small shock to see flat, uninflected brushstrokes carry the progression of color and depth in simple blocks.  As with many Impressionist or Plein Air paintings, a simple squint of the eyes while looking at the brushwork renders significant changes in perception.

A similar painterly juxtaposition in “Trees No. 2” places black holding lines around the greenery, enclosing expectant colors as with a cartoon outline.  These colors, held within a flowing line, stand out against a freely rendered river of luminous brushstrokes that flow by.  This is mirrored by a sky that is equally free in its use of a broad brush.  “Trees No. 3” places smoothly rendered foreground imagery against a background that is nothing if not Impressionist in its colorful units built from flat, wide brushstrokes.

With “Landscape No. 2” the work moves towards more radical juxtaposition, as wavy mountains built from flat color rest beneath a pointillist sky and sun.  A subtly colored field of grass, lightly slashed with vertical strokes of varied greens, sets off and grounds the entire work so that it is organized in three distinct horizontal units.  The work approaches a more purely stated sense of design.

“Highway” is built on its clear delineation of a two-lane highway filled with cars streaming in opposite directions beneath jagged vertical sides of a steeply rising mountain.  The tertiary colors are from the same chromatic family: subtle greys, purples and their complements of beige and light orange.  It’s a palette that whispers, while juxtaposed to a boldness of design.

"Dark Tree," oil on
canvas, 14 x 14".

"Highway," oil on
canvas, 13 x 16".

"Landscape No. 2," oil
on canvas, 13 x 16".

"Trees No. 2," oil on
canvas, 13 x 16".

It’s a joy to discover work that is innovative beneath the quiet cover of subject matter such as landscape painting.  The viewer must pause when looking at Santiago’s deceptively calm paintings.  Then, the realization dawns that these renderings of the familiar world carry within their surfaces an impulse that references a spirit revolutionary over a century ago.  Santiago conveys an early modernist daring that can be fresh today.