Keep on Shining: Suzan Frecon at David Zwirner Gallery

Compositionally simple and deeply emotional. Deliberate execution and intuitive adaptation. For 40 years, Suzan Frecon has married these opposing forces in a transcendent, shimmering abstract style unmistakably her own. Throughout paper, her second solo exhibition at David Zwirner in New York, Frecon delves into the interplay between media and the surfaces receiving it.  — Brian Fee, Austin contributor

Suzan Frecon | blue study from a painting form, 5, 2013, Watercolor on Arches hot press paper, Framed: 17 1/2 x 21 x 1 3/4 inches, Paper: 11 3/8 x 15 inches, Signed and titled verso, Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.

I found Frecon's debut solo exhibition at the gallery in late 2010 totally transfixing. Her combination of open-ended pictorial subjects — possibly sunrises/sets, lagoons, caves, though nothing so concretely defined — and her mastery of paint's incandescent power when stabilized on a surface was a personal Zen highlight of an entire New York gallery season. Frecon's paintings glow, they capture light and radiate it back. Not simply reflect it harshly like an afterthought: rather, there is a controlled diffusion of light in Frecon's paintings. So I was very curious how an exhibition comprised nearly entirely of works on paper (speficially watercolors) would channel her beguiling play with luminescence. Upon arriving at the liquidic form wavering within blue study from a painting form, 5 in the front gallery room (a typically blandly descriptive title in Frecon's usual lowercase), I felt that same awestruck emotion flooding back.

Suzan Frecon | red composition on long paper, 2012, Watercolor on agate-burnished old Indian ledger paper, Framed: 16 1/4 x 38 3/8 x 1 3/4 inches, Paper: 10 1/4 x 32 3/8 inches, Signed, titled, and dated verso, Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.
Suzan Frecon paper installation view, Image courtesy David Zwirner, New York

Frecon's painting development is incredibly rigorous, from sketched and revised work drawings to precise spatial calculations that, with a blend of deliberate movement and intuition, result in expressive, nonrepresentational compositions. These watercolors add a twist to the complexity, imposing the various papers' unique textural qualities and thicknesses, plus their nonuniform dimensions. A wall in the middle gallery reflects this beautifully, as Frecon executes a sublime reddish 'landscape' on three very different papers: the crisply opaque Fabriano hot press paper used in still red, agate-burnished watercolor from large painting idea, variation 2; the fibrous patterned old Indian ledger paper in oxides (from embodiment of red series); and the thinner, eggshell-colored Chinese Yumei paper in composition with four red earths, variation 2. Frecon heightens the distinction with a small-scale painting on the same wall, a similar composition to the works on paper but the second oldest of the lot. As in, these watercolors (particularly the newest, on Fabriano paper) engage the artist's ceaseless compositional development.

Suzan Frecon | composition with four red earths, variation 2, 2012, Watercolor on Chinese Yumei paper, Framed: 16 7/8 x 15 x 1 3/4 inches, Paper: 10 7/8 x 9 inches, Signed and titled verso, Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.
Suzan Frecon | red blue blue, 2012, Watercolor on old Indian ledger paper, Framed: 15 1/4 x 33 x 1 3/4 inches, Paper: 9 1/4 x 27 inches, Signed and titled verso, Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.
Suzan Frecon paper installation view, Image courtesy David Zwirner, New York

Her color technique and deftness in arranging tones is exquisite. Any instance of that irresistible, indescribable blue, like in the perfectly titled indigo watercolor opening the show, demands a lingering gaze. I'd like to believe this iridescent hue and its organic compatibility with earthier tones (as in red blue blue) echoes Frecon's deep understanding of nature, though I know better than to read for specific symbolism in her works. But the lushness of red blue blue is inescapable, particularly when mirrored against the blackish green 'landscape' (measured) dark green composition, its wall companion in the back gallery.

Suzan Frecon | painting with purple surround, 2007, Watercolor on Arches hot press paper, Framed: 21 x 17 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches, Paper: 15 x 11 3/8 inches, Signed and titled verso, Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.

As well, painting with purple surround encapsulates Frecon's dexterity of color and form, combining a hutlike malachite and clay hood over a ruddy orange base and an egg-shaped pool of shimmering ultramarine — like a portal into Avatar — all backgrounded by velvety purple. It feels of this earth, but of a cleaner, more ancient and more pristine earth. The end effect of this exhibition instills a deep visual and abstractly spiritual warmth; a welcome feeling in the waning winter season.

Suzan Frecon | cathedral series, variation 10, 2012, Oil on wood panel, 12 x 9 3/4 x 1 inches, Signed and titled verso, Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York. 


Suzan Frecon was born in Mexico, Pennsylvania. Following a degree in Fine Arts at Pennsylvania State University in 1963, she spent three years at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 2008, Frecons work was the subject of a major solo exhibition at The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, form, color, illumination: Suzan Frecon painting, which traveled to the Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland. She was included in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, and her works are represented in the permanent collections of prominent institutions, including the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland; The Menil Collection, Houston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. She lives and works in New York. The exhibition (on through March 23) will be accompanied by a fully illustrated artist book published by David Zwirner and Radius Books with Lawrence Markey. A concurrent show of watercolors will be presented at Lawrence Markey in San Antonio, Texas, on view from February 22 to March 29, 2013.

Brian Fee is an art punk currently based in Austin, TX. His culture blog Fee’s List covers his three loves (art, film, live music) occurring in his other three loves (the Lone Star State, the Big Apple, and Tokyo).

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