Artist Statement

Over the past two decades, my work has explored aspects of paradox, my attraction to and dread of absolutes, and the confrontation between and intersection of conflicting realities. I have investigated relationships between male and female, the material and the ethereal, the sacred and the secular, nature and artifice, and the known and the unknown. My worlds have been binary seeking the unitary; the promise of contradiction resolved has always been a lure.

Literary and visual sources have included Russian and Byzantine icons, Persian Gulf War battle plans, the maps of Ptolemy, Mercator and Waldseemuller and the Beatus manuscripts of the Pierpont Morgan Library. For the past seven years, I have been appropriating visual structures such as maps and genealogical tables, diagrams which seem inherently rational and which often imply hierarchy. I subvert these structures through a variety of strategies. Longitudes and latitudes are removed; topography is obliterated. Names are erased from family trees. Pedigrees become impure. The language of the laboratory is merged with that of the spirit. Specimens and souls are interchangeable. The didactic dissolves; veils proliferate.

In Repercussions, Suspended and Affliction, gores of a spherical world float in uneasy connection to each other, offering a carnal and spiritual cartography. They hover like disciples, wounded and beatified by shimmering haloes. Coupling and decoupling, they infect each other with disease and desire, apathy and ecstasy. Embalmed for burial or bandaged for recovery, they vacillate between the corporeal and the ethereal, between transmission, remission, submission and passion.

Though beautifully illuminated, the diagrammatic images I appropriate are often impersonal. The family trees in Familiar Secrets and Fly in the Eye: the Genealogy of Ecstasy are of biblical proportions, beginning from Adam and Eve and the progeny of Noah. Their representation of human origins is macrocosmic, multi-generational and projects a generic authority. In invoking the body, flesh and blood, I have attempted to transform, expand and (perhaps) deflate these sources, to fuse the more macrocosmic and impersonal with the microcosmic and personal, to allude to the moment as well as to eternity, to decentralize and to infuse with desire. Shimmering haloes float with tongue tendrils, petri dishes, microscopic specimens, dividing cells, and bloodstains. Veils of the boudoir hang with those of the altar and stage. The sterility of the X-ray contrasts with the fecundity of the cornucopia. Globes unmoored from their orbits are framed among blind spots and black holes.

A 1997 teaching exchange in Holland and residency in Poland returned me temporarily to landscape. The amputated willows lining Dutch canals sparked my Phantom Limbs series of drawings. Rows of Polish trees with their random spheres of mistletoe became backdrops for invented genealogies. Such irregular rhythms in an agrarian geometry provided another visual metaphor for order undone. Mistletoe’s romantic reputation is complicated by its parasitic nature and medicinal value. Its berries are like pinkish pearls. Though born of irritation in the shell, pearls also have romantic allure. Mistletoe drains the life from its host, but prompts the lover’s kiss. The berries in Swoon are suspended in an idealized state and cast down, before and after the “fall”, the surrender, the loss of innocence. Swoon embraces this complication with an aleatory genealogical table that departs from a rational and patriarchal order of bloodlines. This impossible structure acts as an armature for the cascading drapery of Flemish painting, the surrender of grief and desire made incarnate. The eyes of the romantic and the realist are crossed in this painting.

This dubious vision examines the bed as both a functional and sentimental site. Recent works, such as Point of Entry, offer mattresses as grids straying from the pure austere picture plane, grids with body. Apertures puncturing illusionistic cushioned surfaces refute the impenetrable flatness of modernist (male-gendered) painting as well as mirror the violent response to softness prevalent in our culture. The comfort offered is a contrary one, ruined by the pea (another sort of pearl) under the princess’ mountain of mattresses.

Over the last two decades, my work has probed persistent polarities, disembodiment, the questionable primacy of the rational, an elusive equilibrium. Piero Camporesi's Incorruptible Flesh has enhanced my consideration of the world and the body, the world body, the body as world. His accounts of spiritual ecstasy numbing the body to external stimuli inspired Fly in the Eye; a Genealogy of Ecstasy. In rapture, one would not blink, even if disturbed by a fly. Such coincidences of the banal and miraculous embody the extremes of our experience, the measured and immeasurable.

Susanne Slavick 1999

back to Susanne Slavick