Susan Homer at metaphor contemporary art

Susan HomerSusan Homer, From Arlington and Brooklyn (2008), oil on canvas, 12″ x 11″; courtesy the artist

Susan Homer, whose paintings are at metaphor contemporary art in Brooklyn, works in two distinct manners predicated on two distinct scales. On large canvases—for Ms. Homer that would be around five by six feet—she paints free-floating accumulations of flora. In small formats—the paintings don’t go beyond 12 inches in any direction—Ms. Homer dedicates herself to domesticity graced by nature: birds alighting on teacups, cupcakes or a dish containing ginger cookies.

Ms. Homer’s painterly approach varies noticeably when she shifts scales. The large pictures are layered fields of atmospheric color and furtive light. Spatial consistency is deceiving: Ms. Homer doesn’t set out on a predetermined course—she explores and yields to pictorial incident as it occurs. The overlaid botanical motifs are stylized, but they unfurl with organic logic and sweep. Ms. Homer is an avid gardener; it shows in the paintings.

The small pictures are to the point and off-the-cuff. Only an experienced painter could make something fulsome out of a brisk and loaded brush—Ms. Homer seems to get it right the first time around. The images are recognizable and tactile—the objects aren’t far removed from actual size. We know what it’s like to hold a teacup.

Notwithstanding the minty blues in the whimsical Red Cherries and Birdor The Dining Room in Arlington (both 2008), Ms. Homer’s palette is welcoming and warm. A blondish tonality permeates them—a tawny ambience that’s seemingly, if not actually, monochrome. Could it be the familiarity of home, its routines and proximity, which accounts for the friendly air of quietude? Or maybe it’s a love for the Italian modernist Giorgio Morandi and his dusky paintings of bottles and boxes. Probably both.

The charm of Ms. Homer’s still lifes resides in their décor—her choice of china and tablecloths evinces a Victorian daintiness—but also in unlikely confluences of events. A wren isn’t amenable to holding a pose, but Ms. Homer captures the eye-blink moment when it lands on our breakfast table. The 18th-century artist Chardin painted soap bubbles being blown or a house of cards undergoing construction—fleeting occurrences held gently in time. Ms. Homer is similarly involved with the ephemeral.

If narrative time marks Ms. Homer’s small paintings, it’s painterly time with the large ones—the process of slowly building a picture from the ground up. Handiwork is cherished and so, too, is loving attention to pattern, but style bests the temporal. The joyous excess of Small Cradles(2008) nods to the improvisatory tack of Abstract Expressionism and to the suggestive power of ornament typical of Islamic art. Ms. Homer’s avowal of decoration is no less tender for being tough.

Ms. Homer divines within the decorative the possibility of—and, in her hands, the reality—of transcending its strictures. The perfumey rain ofLavender Roses (2008) and the Pollockian splay of vines and flowers ofSmall Cradles yoke nature’s multiplicity and then choreograph them into balletic movements and lilting rhymes. Crocuses in Snow (2008) is a stop-motion drift of purple and flaky white.

Mysticism filters through Ms. Homer’s work and connects it with the American tradition of distilling something otherworldly from within nature’s beneficence. The moody and sometimes glowering portent of Charles Burchfield, the homely abbreviation of Arthur Dove and the stoic emblems of Georgia O’Keefe—Ms. Homer taps into the same preternatural current.

Ms. Homer would seem an artist divided between differing tangents. The recent paintings reiterate a continuing disparity between abstraction and observation, between gradual and rapid, the meditative and the close-at-hand. So how come the two sets of work feel of a piece?

A profound connection with the natural world is part of the answer, as is a fondness for sinuous rhythms. But recurring pictorial tropes are only part of the story. It is Ms. Homer’s faith that art is capable of revealing truths, both large and small, that otherwise pass us by. She doesn’t miss a beat, whether it’s in the studio or the dining room. It’s a cheat to deny the riches and surprises of experience. Ms. Homer doesn’t make a big deal of this truth. Understatement is, after all, her métier.

© 2008 Mario Naves

Originally published in the April 8, 2008 edition of The New York Observer.

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