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"Untitled Study, 2012"
Sue Gordon, "Untitled Study, 2012," encaustic on canvas, 8” x 8”.
2 of 3
Sue Gordon, "Untitled 4," 2012, encaustic on canvas, 16” x 16”.
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Sue Gordon, "Untitled 7," 2013, encaustic on panel 36” x 36”.
SUE GORDON: Far Country
Gurevich Fine Art, Winnipeg
June 3 to June 28, 2013
By Kenton Smith
Among the various titles that make up Winnipeg painter Sue Gordon’s Far Country is the ironic The Future Is Clear, which is anything but in her encaustic landscapes.
Gordon, born and raised primarily on the Saskatchewan prairie, sets her eye literally on the horizon, yet sometimes makes it imperceptible, obscured to the point that we can’t be sure what we’re looking at – as in the exhibition’s eponymous works, numbers two and three, in which the deliberate lack of detail allows, at best, a mere reckoning that what’s presented is a craggy, knife-edged promontory.
Hence we’re confronted with the non-romanticized landscape, in opposition to the vast majority of traditional landscape painting from the 19th century through to Canada’s own Group of Seven. As visualized by Gordon, the horizon is an amorphous, contradictory, paradoxical concept, abstracted to the point of mystery, a place where hope and despair, melancholy and optimism co-mingle.
Take Untitled 11, which could equally be a sublime burning sunset or a volcanic, sulphurous Ragnarok, signifying either beauty or doom. It’s a threateningly dark prairie rainstorm evoked in Untitled 6 and, in Untitled 7, an oppressive grey day confronted seemingly through a filthy, tarnished windshield or screen. (The texture also suggests grainy 8-mm film footage, complete with a thin red line running vertically like a mark on the film emulsion.)
The point is not to play a recognition game, of course, though such associations do place the images within lived, real-world contexts. For instance, one could see Untitled 9 as a low wide-angle perspective on a vast sky, against which desolate spines of blackened trees loom, unifying the picture compositionally. But think of them instead as entrance markers to access the artist’s real subject. That, perhaps, can be best located in I Left My Heart with You and Untitled 8, which suggest unfinished Tom Thomsons, yellowed, faded and/or damaged. Yet if Thomson presented idealized landscapes, the associations evoked in Gordon’s frames suggest the notion of deteriorated ideals – or perhaps ideals either unfulfilled or, as they often are for so many, dream-like and indistinct, and hence elusive.
It’s appropriate, then, that there’s a recurring sense of roughness around the edges of Gordon’s canvases and, for that matter, upon them, with their often thick impasto and choppy lines and forms. This presents another paradox, however, in that standing closer to the paintings reveals a waxy smoothness that invites touch. Reinforced is the notion that perspective, defined by the point at which one is situated, can alter all.
Yet we can still choose our point of focus, and Gordon does allow proverbial chinks of light, at least seemingly, to almost break through in a series never without obstacles. In Untitled 7, we can sense the radiance burning behind the gloom, and it shines even brighter in Untitled 9 – though whether it signifies a long-term change or mere respite is unclear.