Susanna Coffey’s Outward Visions
By John Goodrich
Most gallery-goers will be familiar with Susanna Coffey’s self-portraits—those upward-turning faces, small and closely modeled, set beneath panoramic views. One such painting greets visitors to Coffey’s current exhibition at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects. The rest of the show, however, concentrates on another, little-known facet of her work: the tiny, nocturnal cityscapes and landscapes—rarely larger than 8 inches across—that the artist has been producing for at least 15 years now.
Like the self-portraits, they convince in plastic terms: trees, buildings and streets settle believably into their own spaces. Painted invariably in a single session, their looser, brushier strokes evince a greater urgency of technique.
Occasionally the paintings’ colors don’t live up to this promise; the darks feel immobile in hue or studied in their designs. But more often than not, colors have a vitality equal to their brisk facture. In “Back Road” (1995), for instance, the rich glint of an ochre-green field, simmering next to a more absorbent, darker green, perfectly captures the lightfall from a small moon above. In “Grant Park 3/27/10” (2010), a view from an upper floor of a Chicago high-rise, pathways wind evocatively into the distance, dimly lit by a scattering of orange and yellow street lamps.
Best of all is “The Mill and Dipper” (1998). Within its tiny dimensions, swirls of tawny greens—trees—climb up one side, becoming bluer and straighter as they gather height. A single stroke of a barely lighter green, the denseness of a damp lawn, stretches across the panel’s bottom edge, anchoring the trees’ rise. A building’s retiring red answers across an interval of space, above which purple clouds slowly curl. An inverse arc is traced by a final series of delicate white specks—the Big Dipper, as the title tells us. But we really don’t need to know this; as marks and colors, it captures the mysterious dance between the large and the small, the light and the dark.
Susanna Coffey Nocturnes
Through April 22, Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, 208 Forsyth St., 917-861-7312, www.shfap.com.
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