Without the prompting of her 303 Gallery show’s title – “WTC, WWIII, Couch Size” – few viewers would apprehend Sue Williams’s richly evocative new color field paintings as what they are: crazed essays on life in the time of 9/11, the signature disaster of the present epoch. The central component of these busy, lively pieces is the discordance between the prepossessing gaiety of their bright colors and jangled line, on one hand, and the more submerged gruesomeness of the body parts and distressed buildings actually depicted, on the other. But in addition to hearts and livers, there are of course penises and vaginas. Whatever cloud of civilizational angst hovers over us, she suggests, our lives as sentient, indulgent beings can’t help but go on.
[Image at top: Sue Williams, The Serpent, 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 54 x 64 inches. Courtesy 303 Gallery]
In a way, Williams’s reaction to 9/11 is reminiscent of the Abstract Expressionists’ resort to emotion and the joy (or struggle) of process in the painful aftermath of World War II, as the nuclear age dawned and the Cold War emerged. But there’s more to her work than tribute. The pieces, like many commercial canvases, are explicitly and self-consciously “couch size.” And they are not as resolutely abstract as, say, a Pollack or a Still but rather just “anthropomorphically abstract,” to paraphrase the gallery’s press release. The result is not flight from doom but instead a more Warholian message – one that rings true – about the infiltration of horror into even the most ostensibly cheery public imagery.
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