Once again, Susan Christian is showing her painted stick constructions at her own gallery, Salon Refu. The paintings are assemblages of various kinds of sticks, mostly lathe, which she puts together in rectangular shapes and paints as if they were stretched canvases.
The last time I reviewed an exhibition of these paintings I wrote: "Perhaps it is as radical as when Duchamp bought a urinal and entered it in an art exhibition under the title ‘Fountain,' or as radical as when Frank Stella started making paintings in odd geometric shapes." But I also wrote in that same review: "The patterns she paints on (the sticks) are almost classically balanced with carefully chosen color combinations." This is also true. Christian is comfortable with contradiction; she has no problem being both classical and radical in the same paintings.
Her paintings on sticks are classical in the way Piet Mondrian's and Stuart Davis' are - configurations of simple shapes that are carefully composed and neatly balanced, mostly symmetrical balance but always with something a little out of kilter, a little bit out of balance. Perhaps that something is a little square way off on one edge while everything else is perfectly balanced. Like a mischievous kid in a dance recital who keeps breaking ranks. That kid might be infuriating, but she's the one who makes the dance exciting.
One painting called "Rabbit" consists of six long pieces of lathe placed side-by-side in a vertical arrangement. They are painted a soft, off-white. Across the top and bottom are darker gray tips like the black and white keys on a piano. The top "keys" and the bottom "keys" alternate in patterns that are almost regular, but if you try looking back and forth from top to bottom to detect the pattern, you can't do it. It's a patternless pattern. There are also four small parts of this one that are painted orange. Three of them are arranged to form a triangle in a classical Renaissance composition, but the forth is way off to the side and totally out of balance.
There's one called "Baby Bear." Christian told me it was so named because it was "just right" as in the children's story of the three bears. But it's not just right. There are 10 long strips of wood laid out horizontally and painted a soft white with hints of blue. There are three bright yellow strips. One of them is dead-center on the top stick and the other two look to have been jammed into the space between lathing strips in totally random places, and there's one tiny little pale yellow splotch that has no reason for being where it is. Perhaps it's the baby bear.
Most of the paintings are done with latex paint, a few with latex and enamel. It's house paint laid on in a manner that looks slap-dash but which is more careful and intentional than it looks. The same can be said of Christian's compositions, which appear to be random but aren't. These are excellent paintings that should be seen.
Susan Christian at Salon Refu, 2-6 p.m., Thursday-Sunday, and by appointment, through March 26, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: "Rabbit" by Susan Christian. Photo credit: Alec Clayton