Susan von Glahn Calabria: Hereandafter

March 17 - June 17, 2018

For more than a decade, Susan von Glahn Calabria created immersive activity spaces as well as art exhibitions at BMAC. Throughout her tenure as the museum’s Education Curator, she maintained a painting studio in her home. She meticulously renders paintings on paper in gouache. Her mastery of this unforgiving medium is astonishing.

In her still life paintings Calabria seldom uses the traditional frontal tabletop view. More often, she sets a few small objects on a surface and paints them from a bird’s-eye point of view. What makes these paintings fresh and captivating is that she imbues each object with personality. Each has an animating presence, and together they tell a plotless story. I am struck by how tender the relationships are between these inanimate objects—especially the folded origami boxes.

In another body of work, Calabria sets people or objects in complex patterned spaces that are at once backgrounds and landscapes. She gives the entire surface edge-to-edge interest, so that stylistically the pieces resemble medieval tapestries. They are physically and psychologically nuanced, requiring careful observation to unlock their riches. It is an investigation well worth the effort.

— Mara Williams, Chief Curator

“What was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mold in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself,—life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose?” — Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark

As a child I collected things—rocks, shells, coins, butterflies, moths. Later I added photographs from magazines, patterned papers, other natural objects, squashed metal, and broken glass to my trove.

One of the most interesting parts of creating a new work is the beginning, when I sort through the ever-growing collection and play with a group of objects until their final placement is not only harmonious to my eye, but also reveals a story or a metaphor. Then the challenge to paint the still life much larger can take months. Black and White and Crossing are examples of this method.

Sometimes I rely on a more conventional still life, as in Five Boxes and Last Nasturtium. For narrative paintings such as At the Edge of the Woods and Three Souls, I use printed Japanese Yuzen paper as the ground for figures and objects. March is a landscape created completely from memory.

Working at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center from 2002 to 2015, I learned and taught a method of group observation and discussion that encourages individuals to find their own meaning in works of art, instead of adopting explanations or interpretations from art historians or even the works’ creators. This made me think more critically about meaning in my own art, and it also freed me to embrace ambiguity and imperfection. Now, near the end of my working process, the trompe l’oeil aspect becomes irrelevant, and the needs of the painting itself take over. It is ultimately paint and paper, and I enjoy the prerogative of some invention.

— Susan von Glahn Calabria


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