Susan Sommer

Susan Sommer

Accord, NY

Seeking to express pure freedom with clarity on a two-dimensional rectangle in oil paint, my point of departure is color placement, where only the first color is arbitrary, unfolding in any of an infinite number of permutations. This could mean starting with a light blue, a combination of manganese blue, ultramarine deep and white with a dash of cadmium orange, evoking atmosphere, sky or water, and building from there, by way of color patterning based on allusions to rhythm, velocity, depth, foreground and sound. During the winter, when I paint indoors, I rely on interior light and music. They describe the rhythmic evolution of the painting. I dance and stretch, and my body becomes a conduit for the rhythm. While listening to native music, particularly Caribbean , African and South American, the painting reflects those rhythms in brush strokes and in color, one relating to the other. Lately, listening to pure jazz and classical music, a composed and classical style and composition is being described. This is an audio-visual relationship that occurs naturally.

In the spring, when it is warm enough to paint outdoors, I turn off the music and start painting while listening to the sounds of nature and I try to express, as Corot said so perfectly “the truth of the moment.” There may be moments of pure silence, broken as the wind sweeps through the leaves. The rustle and sounds of insects and birds prevail. I hear the frenetic frenzy of the carpenter bees buzzing loudly and vying for position, or the wind will kick up a billion clapping leaves, counterpoint to the dry scratching of last year’s leaves as they scrape along the stone. It is impossible not to paint some bird gestures when those low flying geese squawk by. Occasionally, I will look at the view, not to imitate, but to refresh my mind and savor the pleasure of painting outdoors. It is more about feeling the vibration of the moment by standing on the ground, listening to the sounds, and ingesting, organizing and painting abstractly the rhythms that are literally flowing through my mind. This too is an audio-visual relationship.

When I work outdoors, because I take my cues for color and design from the sound and scents of nature, and because I will take the painting back into the studio for final adjustments just as the plein air impressionists did, I have elected to call my art “plein air abstraction.”

For an historical example, I think of George Gershwin who discusses the concept of senses crossing from sound to color in his title and evocative content, “Rhapsody in Blue.” I also look at the work of Vasily Kandinsky who was so moved by the music of Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, especially in terms of synesthesia, as he gave hints with titles of musical improvisation and looked toward abstraction. It is said that he was attempting to liberate his work from nature. I am attempting to work with nature in the most fundamental ways.

This method of painting has evolved over the last forty years as my experience progressed from intense figure study at the Art Students League; to a more architectural abstraction while I was living in the urban setting of New York City; and finally in the last twenty-five years, as I have been surrounded by landscape at the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. I continue to explore the beat of this dense, wonderful environment. Fred Astaire said to Ginger Rogers, “we’ll have nothing but fun set to music,” and I would add “fun set to music, set to painting.”