Suzan Frecon at the Drawing Room

Suzan Frecon. red strokes. (1998)Suzan Frecon, red strokes (1998), watercolor on Japanese paper, 14-1/2″ x 18-1/2″; courtesy The Museum of Modern Art

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A painter friend recommended that I stop by the exhibition of Suzan Frecon’s drawings at the Drawing Center’s annex. After doing so, it occurred to me that drawing painting, the title of the show, is just the kind of thing a painter would recommend.  That’s not necessarily a dig:  The fifty or so watercolors on display are gratifyingly casual and a pleasure to behold. Yet if you guessed that Ms. Frecon’s work might hold the greatest fascination for specialists–i.e., those for whom painting is a practice–you’d be right. One wonders how long the uninitiated might stay with the pieces. Not very long, I think.

What’s striking about Ms. Frecon’s drawings is also what can make them seem like trifles–their brevity and looseness, their offhand élan. Each one is an informal investigation of craft that can be likened to stretching one’s muscles before the main event. The images are straightforward and unfettered, doodle-like but not doodles. They’re almost always lively.  Of all the watercolors featured in drawing painting , only one falls flat: a blueprint for a painting done on graph paper. This piece suffers from the malady that afflicts Ms. Frecon’s paintings: over-plotting.

Unplottedness, then, is the reward of the drawings. Employing a palette dominated by a brooding rust, Ms. Frecon applies brush to paper, watches where it leads her and leaves well enough alone. The drawing here is largely a matter of calligraphy, although the artist’s brush never achieves–or, for that matter, aspires to the pointed elegance we may associate with that genre. Homely and blunt, Ms. Frecon’s line activates the page tentatively, tenderly and oftentimes lumpishly. Yet it always discovers its purpose–by tangling into architecture, partaking in acrobatics, thickening into mass, or finding a place to “sit” within the perimeters of the paper. The pictorial issues Ms. Frecon explores–-scale and format, figure and ground, how much is not enough and how little is just right–-are stated with a rigorous, free-form curiosity. This quality carries the work farther than one would initially think possible.

The precedents Ms. Frecon’s art recalls are sterling: Klee in its particularity, Guston in its probity and a 6-year-old child in its esprit. If the last comparison plays into the old complaint of “my kid could do that,” let’s just say that most painters go to their graves without achieving the kind of directness and ease Ms. Frecon can claim. Besides, Ms. Frecon isn’t a kid; she’s a sophisticated artist. Her drawings are bound to be the envy of her peers–the object of admiration, too.

(c) 2002 Mario Naves

A version of this article was originally published in the February 17, 2002 edition of The New York Observer.

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