Tired of phrases such as best kept secret, finally receiving her due, and delayed recognition it is time to recognize artists, particularly women artists who are in their prime, evolving both in facility and content. Susan Carr is a quintessential example, an accomplished artist who, over decades, has fearlessly mined the history of her own existence. Her latest exhibit, Magic Mirror at LABspace in Hillsdale New York is a tribute to her dedication, talent and courage.
The gallerists, Julie Torres and Ellen Letcher have created a pristine environment, a brilliant white luminescent space from floor to ceiling to highlight Carr’s sculptures and paintings.This is not a white cube, but a solemn, floaty space that allows Carr’s signature colorist work to compel the viewer to look closely at each image whether two or three dimensional. A long altar-like shelf holds a multitude of small figures that can at once be described as deities, mini totems, talismans, or secret 21st century Hummels created to ward off evil spirits. Above the shelf are paintings and reliefs sparsely placed and bearing the iconic images repeatedly utilized by Carr symbolizing in some cases, traumatizing experiences.
It would be great to focus on each sculpture, but obviously space does not allow such a luxury so these works described are just a small sample of the entire show. Mr Sun, is a mighty 9” x 6” painted ceramic figure that defies the concept that bigger is better. His head, looking up, is tilted slightly to the side, while a golden halo frames his big smiley clownish face. Yellow arms are planted firmly on his hips covered by a rainbow shirt, while feet securely planted apart match the colors of his halo. The overall feeling conveyed is grit despite circumstances. Moving down the shelf, an untitled glazed hot pink voluptuous goddess creature stands peacefully offering a white dove in one hand, while her other hand is placed on her naked hip. Rainbow hair outlines a cheery smile and eyes are black bulging orbs that are surrounded by pure white. Her torso mimics her face. The nipples are large, red and round on full flushed breasts, the belly button simulates a nose and the onyx V for pubic hair copies the smile. Peace and tranquility is the message of this small powerful statue.
Painting portraits is always a challenge since it is from the artist’s point of view. Painting self portraits is twice as difficult. You are examining yourself. It might be a portrait of how you want to be perceived, or how you subjectively see yourself. Painting numerous self portraits often leads to stripping away of non-essentials, deleting the trivia. This is what Susan Carr has done in an adjacent room. 16 small portraits, 8 in a top row and 8 directly beneath. The top row is painted in a signature Carr style, thick paint, large eyes, red smiles, rouge cheeks, textured skin and almost always directly facing the viewer, the audience, and the artist. The second row are self portraits. These are poignant images that tenderly address her loves, concerns and vulnerabilities. The first self portrait, 12” x 12,” titled, In his clothes, is the artist wearing the red baseball cap of her deceased son and his shirt. Her face is in a three quarter pose. Her eyes and her mouth reflect the sadness of the moment. Nothing could be more realistic than what this painting communicates. On the top row, My mask, my super power, 12” x 12,” is rendered in a more Carr-recognizable style. Paint applied almost as a relief creating an extraordinarily textured surface, large bulbous eyes, and a disingenuous happy smile. This is not fake, this is how a person perseveres through hard times. This is how a person continues because there are other loves and purposes. The installation of these 16 paintings capture the reality of how a human moves through life, through one woman’s experience.
In addition there are several other works, including larger paintings, sculptures and soft life-size somewhat anatomically correct rag dolls. Three and a half years ago I encountered Susan Carr’s sculptures and paintings at LABspace for the first time. I was so mesmerized by the exhibition, Flipside, I wrote a review focused on the empathy and duality of the work. Carr has the ability to create work that, at first appears whimsical and fun, but on further examination is packed with psychological insight. This talent has only increased with time.
This exhibition Magic Mirror is aptly named since it encapsulates not only the vision of reviewing one’s life, the positive and negative, but also the exceptional ability to share that experience enabling others to carry on.
Magic Mirror is on view at LABspace through November 27. Located at 2642 Route 23, Hillsdale, NY. Gallery hours are Saturdays and Sundays 1-5 and by appointment.