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Friday, June 1, 2012

Natural History (on Don Suggs' show "Thermal Pool Paintings and Paradise Prints")





natural history
by Douglas Messerli

Don Suggs Thermal Pool Paintings and Paradise Prints, LA Louver, May 24-June 30, 2012

In his newest show, “Thermal Pool Paintings and Paradise Prints,” at LA Louver gallery in Venice, artist Don Suggs again shows work that, at first sight, may appear to be brightly colored geometric abstractions in the shape of targets. Upstairs in the gallery, however, he has branched out into large black and white photographic prints of famed natural sites from national parks such as Zion and Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona, along with scenes, vaguely reminiscent of photographer Ansel Adams, of clouds, California beaches, and other natural wonders—within which he has again inserted images of his brightly colored target-like paintings, produced by ink-jet.

     What becomes apparent in this show, particularly through the seemingly oppositional images of nature and his colored wheels, is that Suggs’ works are not what they first appear to be. Rather than simply being highly colored geometric shapes, the paintings are associative images of various thermal pools in Yellowstone National Park, and relate most specifically to the photographic prints.   

     Suggs explained that his choice of colors depends on various combinations of the time of day, the slant of the sun, and other natural phenomena surrounding the pools, including, perhaps, his own emotional responses to the natural sites. Pod, for example, is a picture of a mountain peak, where below a group of Korean sight-seers are gathered, small figures in the foreground looking up at the towering natural wonder. The colors of the circular image imposed just above their heads—golden yellows and olive greens— was determined, he told me, by their nearby tourist bus, sporting those very hues. The couple peering through an optical viewer of Sight do, in fact, seem to be “taking a shot” at the looming tower of rock, reflected again, in the colors of the circular “target” hovering over their heads. 
      Zion Rose, a photograph of “Angel’s Landing” in Zion National Park, is illuminated with a circular form that features, pinks, greens, and reds, suggesting the colors of that flowering plant.

      The beach palms of di Suvero, a reference to the sculptor, Mark di Suvero, whose art is embedded within the palms, has all the hot pinks and coral colors that one associates with the Venice beach of Los Angeles, a block away from the gallery.

     In this context Suggs’ paintings take on new meanings as their abstractions give way to more associative and even private combinations of intense color, helping one to understand why, as Suggs puts it, “I see these pools differently every time I observe them.”

     This new show, accordingly, reveals that, while his work still clearly has connections with abstraction and conceptual art, Suggs is perhaps more of a natural historian, an artist who connects the moment of creation not only to nature but to what was happening at those natural sites at the very moment of his witnessing of them, thus balancing the sense of their permanence with the very human moments in time through which we glimpse their significance.

Los Angeles, May 29, 2012  

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