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"Susan Christian's Long Journey" at Stable Studios

“Slave,” painting by Susan Christian. Photo courtesy of the artist

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Susan Christian's paintings at Stable Studios are the real deal. They are painting as painting is meant to be: simple, straight-forward, unpretentious and with no trickery whatsoever. Some might see the cut-off figures, oddly elongated formats and mysterious scenes as gimmickry, but they're not; they are simply Christian being Christian and honestly responding to the world around her.

The show is called "Susan Christian's Long Journey." She explained the show title in a recent gallery talk. She started off by saying, "I am old," implying that the long journey of the title refers to her life's journey as an artist. And then she talked about where she lives on the water where looking out her window all she can see is water from horizon to horizon and how that has influenced her painting. Her paintings are long and thin, generally five-to-six feet long and little more than a foot in height, and many of them depict water, often framed or cut-off by curtains.

People show up in some of the paintings, but we never see the people in their entirety. In most we see only their feet and parts of their legs. In some instances, they are indicated by the hems of dresses (which are almost identical to the edges of curtains shown in some of the paintings). In only one painting is almost an entire figure shown, and it is cropped at the shoulders; i.e., headless. Viewers must come up with their own interpretations of the odd inclusion (or exclusion) of figures in her paintings. I see them as symbols of emptiness and alienation, of loneliness, of sadness, but also as visual tropes to provide a sense of scale in relation to everything else that is pictured.

The paintings are reductive, often showing large expanses of emptiness. In one, the rounded hems of dresses, as in twirling square dancers on either end of open space, keep the expansive space from going off into infinity. In another, a pair of bare feet standing in the opening between two curtains appears to be giant feet as seen by a baby crawling on the floor. In yet another, a crouching figure (the afore-mentioned figure cropped at the head) seems to be a goddess or religious icon watching over the world. Suddenly, as I write these lines, it dawns on me that these paintings call to mind Andrew Wyeth's painting "Christina's World."

Beyond the implied narratives and beyond Christian's view of the world as seen through her windows, these are paintings about the art of painting, about spatial relationships, about contrasts and harmonies of color and shape, and about the skillful and intuitive application of paint -- solid and richly opaque here and in layers of thin washes there. They are a joy to see.

"Susan Christian's Long Journey," noon to 3 p.m., Thursday-Sunday, and by appointment, through Nov. 5, Stable Studios, 607 5th Ave. SE, Olympia, 360.951.7902

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