silent form, dost tease us out of thought
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
Ode On a Grecian Urn, John Keats, 1820
Susan Goldman's vessels are classical, theatrical,
profound - very human.
Seemingly straightforward as a set of images familiar to any viewer - what could be more direct than a soup tureen? - the simplicity of this subject allows the artist to reach many audiences while developing an increasingly complex visual language of form, color, pattern, and texture.
Monumental Vessel I (1997) was a breakthrough piece. With it, the artist found a symbolic figure standing for the torso as well as cultural antiquity, a favorite theme. Testing the limits of representation allowed Goldman to focus more intensely on the atmospheres which could be achieved by building layers of transparent inks and washes of sensuous color on a single sheet of paper. Her monotype technique (known as a multi-drop process) involves selective wiping of the printing plate to create soft effects which contrast with the play of objects and planes of color.
Three Ampulla, Brown (1997) and Four Dark Vessels V, G,P,R,Y (2000) demonstrate that background tones and contrasting color determine much of the emotional weight of a piece. The paradox, then, is that the containers in each composition are contained by the print's ground. Any liquid content is an irrelevant mystery.
Other artists this century have effectively used vessels as the basis of philosophical and painterly flights including Italian Giorgio Morandi and American realist William Bailey. These painters have worked squarely in the tradition of self representation, almost in defiance of the abstract currents that swept twentieth century art. Goldman, however, sometimes allows her objects to disintegrate nearly to abstraction just to underscore the illusionism involved in conjuring any solid thing out of ink on paper.
The tradition, both old and revived, in which Susan Goldman squarely works is the art of the print. She is an artist most fluent in monotype, intaglio and screenprinting. She's also a master printer who guides other artists in these processes. As a result of Goldman's ten-year association with the Washington-area's premier printmaking studio, Pyramid Atlantic, she has collaborated with artists ranging from Miriam Schapiro and Mindy Weisel, to Jacob Kainen and Hung Liu. Her circle of students continues to grow through teaching at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, the Maryland Institute, College of Art, and George Mason University.
She's such an inveterate teacher that when the Smithsonian's National Museum for American Art needed a video to go with the exhibit Singular Impression: The Monotype in America, Joann Moser, Senior Curator for Graphic Arts, asked her to do it. In the video, Goldman can be seen pulling impressions of one of her first vessel pieces, Vases I & II (1997).
Two years ago, she was invited as a visiting artist-in-residence to a Cultural Moussem (festival) in Assilah, Morocco. Fascinated by the omnipresence of patterns in architecture, pottery, tapestries, floor mosaics, and utilitarian objects (as well as the cultural fusion between old and new, in music as well as art) she began patterning her vessels as well as the space around them. The result is an ongoing body of startling, tactile compositions such as Collection (2002), Star Gazer Mosaic (2002), and the series Pattern Vases (2001).
In many of the monotypes inspired by Morocco, vessels swirl and careen, dissolving into each other, into shadow, and into light. Hand-stamped patterns, both organic and geometric, both define forms and defy forms - signifying how visual variety both creates and blurs boundaries. Pattern Vases, Green/Red (2001) stands as an elegant study of this idea: boldly decorated, two complimentary containers are set off from a far more discreet background. Yet, the relationship between shades of green, in one vase and the background, suggests, again, that much of the object's meaning is drawn from its context. Interestingly, the Pattern Vases series appears less solid than the monochromatic forms in a stately piece such as Two Red Decanters (2002).
Susan Goldman's vessel prints are a marvelous commentary on human nature and the nature of beauty: no matter how much are brains have supposedly mutated as a result of advertising, infinite graphic bombardment, and new technology, a hand-pulled impression on paper of some gold/blue/brown/pink pitchers has the power to catch our eye and hold our hearts. What a relief.
Eleanor Kennelly is a Washington-based critic whose articles
have appeared in
Copyright © 2001 Susan Goldman. All Rights Reserved