LONDON — Wherever Vivian Suter goes, she takes the Guatemalan jungle with her. Last year, the 70-year-old artist filled New York’s Gladstone Gallery and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, with her vibrant abstract canvases, suspended unframed from the walls and ceilings, strung from racks, and laid in piles on the floor. Now she has come to London’s Camden Arts Centre, where 200 canvases fill two galleries and part of the garden, for the exhibition Tintin’s Sofa, in the artist’s trademark immersive mise-en-scène.
Though she was born in Argentina and raised in Switzerland, Suter has been living in Panajachel, Guatemala, next to the volcanic lake Atitlán, for almost 40 years. After some success in the European art world in the early 1980s, she went into self-imposed exile in Central America and quickly fell in love with the beauty of the Guatemalan landscape, and with an American academic living in Guatemala. When their marriage ended, she built herself a house and studio that she shared with her artist mother, Elisabeth Wild (who, sadly, recently passed away).
Suter’s house and studio are both at the mercy of the natural world: a strangler fig tree is currently threatening to uproot her bedroom floor, and a couple of tropical storms have flooded her studio. The first flood, in 2005, devastated Suter, who was convinced that the muddy rainwater had destroyed her paintings. But once the canvases dried out she realized that these encroachments from nature in fact enhanced the works. Though she had previously painted outside, she began to embrace an al fresco method more fully.
Suter’s paintings bear many traces of the environment in which they were made. In addition to the water marks, they are embedded with leaves, sticks, mud, and paw prints. The exhibition’s title — Tintin’s Sofa — is a reference to her dog’s penchant for sitting on top of the canvases. Another of her installations, currently on display at Tate Liverpool, is subtitled Vivian’s Bed. This approach to art — acknowledging it as something in and of the world — is what makes her painterly vision so enchanting and, maybe paradoxically, so otherworldly.
Suter’s individual works, rendered in a bold and vivid palette, are idiosyncratic fits in the tradition of 20th- and 21st-century abstraction. In one there’s a glimmer of Rothko or Clyfford Still, in another a splash of Oscar Murillo. Some of the canvases seem to hint at figuration — evoking a mountain or a cat, for instance — but it’s rarely ever more than a suggestion.
Suter doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in the individuality of her works. None are titled, dated, or signed. Many are obscured by the way in which they’re installed. Instead, they serve as parts of a whole that is greater, and more beautiful, than the sum of its parts — much like our ecosystem.
There can be little doubt that Suter’s sense of oneness with nature has contributed to the renewed attention to her work over the past few years, in which she has received major solo exhibitions around the world. Her respect for the environment and collaborative approach to the natural world is very much in tune with the contemporary zeitgeist. Yet while the ecological aspect of Suter’s work is timely, her obvious enjoyment of pure color and form makes the artworks all the more enduring. I hope her sublime re-imaginings of Guatemalan landscapes continue to fill our galleries and public spaces for many years to come.
Vivian Suter: Tintin’s Sofa continues at Camden Arts Centre (Arkwright Rd, London, UK) through April 5.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very New York art events this month, including art made during the first stock market crash, a homage to feline friends, and the 10-year anniversary of a crucial public art initiative.
Astrid Dick was told that she could not paint stripes because Sean Scully and Frank Stella have done so before her, a patently foolish statement.
Hrag Vartanian, Hyperallergic’s editor-in-chief, is one of the guest jurors reviewing applications for the two-month residency in Utica, New York.
Paddy Johnson answers your questions about art fairs, visibility, and frustrating studio visits.
The 26th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival’s Philippines retrospective highlights early documentation of the country, local responses to the Marcos dictatorship, and contemporary work.
Hear a band of improvisers led by Rajna Swaminathan and a performance of Morton Feldman’s “For John Cage” in programs inspired by the exhibition, “New York: 1962-1964.”
The country music legend says the museum will be part of a “Dolly Center.”
Herzog and de Meuron’s design for the Museum of the 20th Century in Berlin has been accused of poor energy efficiency and called a “structural nightmare.”
From residencies, fellowships, and workshops to grants, open calls, and commissions, our monthly list of opportunities for artists, writers, and art workers.
Looking for some holiday gift inspiration? We’ve got you covered with this roundup of accessories, games, and more that have been flying off the shelf this season.
SCAD’s booth at Design Miami/ features glazed tiles by alumni artists Nicolas Barrera, Lauren Clay, Gonzalo Hernandez, Cory Imig, Abel Macias, and Nikita Nagpal.
Plaintiff Cheri Pierson accuses the disgraced financier of a “brutal” sexual attack at the Manhattan mansion of Jeffrey Epstein.
At the heart of What if the Matriarchy Was Here All Along? is the idea that matriarchy never really died but rather has transformed.