Suzan Woodruff & Brad Howe: “Properties of Light”

at George Billis Gallery

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Installation view “Properties of Light” with works by Suzan Woodruff
and Brad Howe
Photo: courtesy George Billis Gallery

It’s rare that artists working in such diametrically opposing mediums should be able to converge and converse as pleasurably as they do in “Properties of Light,” the two-person show of works by painter Suzan Woodruff and sculptor Brad Howe. But one thing both artists share is a dedication to the well-made object, and with each artist pushing forward the edges of modernist techniques, the exhibition, as curated by William Moreno, is both a testament to the adaptability of venerable practices and a study in unlikely counterpoint.

By way of disclosure, I’ve known Woodruff and followed her elegantly wrought art for over 15 years, and even written a short catalogue essay for her along the way. Since then, she’s continued to evolve her signature technique, which involves her pouring lustrous acrylic paint onto panels, using a tiltable armature, so that the finished works seem to suggest patterns and processes of the earth as seen from space. Trumpeting richly iridescent abstractions that recall geological or meteorological phenomena, presenting whirls and swirls and eddies, the paintings seem both grounded in the worldly physics of our planet, and somewhat otherworldly in their luminously colorful effects. That balance, between implied earthly representation, and overt painterly abstraction, constitutes the works’ power and poetry, and varies surprisingly from piece to piece. Those works that manifest mainly in shades of blue call to mind the oceanic hues of our own, vivid blue marble. In other works, fiery shades of yellow, red, and blood orange seem to erupt with volcanic dynamism; the suggestions of blood or magma or liquefied sunlight adds a vaguely apocalyptic “fire and ice” undercurrent. Intriguingly, she also presented several convex, circular works; their shape makes clear their global inspiration while also parading their ineluctable presence as abstractions. The show’s stand-out is Pompeii, a 48-by-90-inch work that draws in the entire spectrum, from egg cream yellows to pale celadon greens to flat sky blues, its palette at once exuberant and restrained, defying labels.

Howe’s previous works have engaged jazz-like syncopations in their formal playfulness; here, he offered an array of gleaming stainless steel wedges and prisms, some pointy and hard-edged, others smoothed to fin-like swells. Set among the paintings, and evoking the Light and Space geometries of artists such Peter Alexander, they created an austerely sumptuous hall of reflection for Woodruff’s atmospheric abstractions, a sensual interplay of hard and soft, curves and angles, that point back to the show’s real subject: the response of the viewer’s own eye and body.