Suzann Phelan Denny

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Artist’s Statement:

I am involved with the influence of light as the primary architect of composition. Still, I chase it in an obsessive urge to fix and polish its location after having meaningfully choreographed its movement throughout the page.

My drawings of the landscape are about distance and breadth; fertility and emergence and the impact of seasonal change observed and recorded during a period of total immersion in an area.

Drawing is the artist’s intimate X-ray. Pastel is a perfect fit for me in that it can be controlled and released to combine and reconcile order and violence in a drawing. The naturalness and tactility of the medium is the best vehicle for linking my hand to the page. The works begin with spare and gestural watercolor underpaintings, over laid with pastel using impressionist-like color. Vast horizontal expanses of land and dramatic depth of field are exaggerated, with the extension of format, to a size that is generally long and narrow. To reinforce the stillness of a scene with the stability of objects randomly placed, or the promising perspective of a road, is a recurring personal choice.

Interior works offer the safety and security I observe and treasure. They are scavenged glimpses of places with strong figurative and temporal implications intended to linger.

Charles Burchfield, in a 1933 catalog essay for an exhibition of his artist friend, Edward Hopper, wrote, “An artist… must belong to his own peculiar time and place.” My American spirit has sought visual pairing, in particular in Italy and France. Italian work records the subtle and figurative contours of land, where the dense penetration of light traces sculptural clusters of cypress as patterns, infrequently interrupted by a ribbon of road. Paris and regions of France are engulfed in the blue-gray light of romanticism and Italian ochres and terra cotta are replaced by pink and mauve and blue green. I am interested in observation and identification, not alienation, with the patina of a region, lending to the visual responses and unpremeditated “Americanism”.

I have an affinity with the tender and poetic renderings of Corot, particularly his Italian landscapes. The contemplation ethic he favored is appealing and his manner of drawing the viewer into the picture anticipates 20th century painting. Works on paper are said to have allowed Corot freedom to experiment, resulting in imagery with liberties he never took on canvas. I am also in concert with the tonal realism and sophistication of John Singer Sargent and his preoccupation with light, special effects and subdued color schemes. Recently, I became acquainted with the extraordinary watercolors of Gustav Jongkind, a 19th century Dutch painter. The spontaneity and comprehensiveness of his work provides me with invaluable learning tools. It is Edward Hopper, in his unrelenting desire to pin down the uniqueness of a place that I most deeply appreciate. It is his fidelity to a few familiar places; his ability to search for motif which strike an emotional chord and his portrayal of figures carrying out an occupation that has worn them into its mold, that I find strongly compelling. The individuality that each of these artists has established, through discipline and work ethic, defines them in ways that cannot be replicated or stylized.

A Full Professor in the Design Department, I have been on the Faculty of Buffalo State College since 1974. Recently retired, I recognize that teaching has enabled my gifts to become richer through sharing.

I value the advent of global intelligence in the Arts and Humanities. I lament, in an age of advanced technology in the visual arts, the apparent demise of tactile sensibility. It is important to examine the responsibility of visual arts education to its role in the integration of classical practice with the development of new technology.

Matisse writes in Notes of Painter, “...the work of art must carry within itself its complete significance and impose that on the beholder even before he recognizes the subject matter.”