Anne Subercaseaux finds substance in the insubstantial, in paintings that freeze the ephemeral patterns of reflection and shadow. In her muted, almost monochrome palettes, images seem familiar but still elusive. The precise silhouette of a bridge girder or a windblown branch moves into focus and out again, a fleeting glimpse from the corner of the eye.
Anne is represented by Slate Contemporary in Oakland. In this interview she talks about her two ongoing series, Reflections: on Crossing and La Nature.
Articiple: There’s such a strong relationship to place in your work, even as there’s an absorption in abstract imagery, in tonality, light, and form as ends in themselves, not references. I’m interested in that play between figurative and abstract work, where a painting becomes a translation between the defined and the undefined. I wonder what that particular movement means to you?
Anne: To offer some background, I worked early on at various architectural and engineering firms, drafting structural and architectural drawings. My interest peaked with the man-made constructions I drew in plans, sections and details and I considered going into architecture or engineering. Later, I studied and worked in creating illustrations and graphic design. My studio practice and painting continued after art school. After years of doing portraiture and singular paintings, I decided to work on a theme. The area of the Altamont Pass became my muse. The combination of the wind turbines and California landscape in poetic formations inspired me and gave material to draw and paint. During my daily work commute across the (old) Bay Bridge, I again became attracted to the structural design and construction of steel beams and girders. The cast shadows from beams onto the roadway surface presented an interplay of lights, shadows and patterns. Working from photos and framing compositions within each resulted in finding abstract imagery to paint. The abstraction evolved from the defined source of imagery. In these paintings the exterior works with my interior, a resonance with each composition to particular feelings, memories, or imagined places.
Articiple: The relationship between urban and rural is part of the dialog between your two series, Reflections: on Crossing and La Nature. Many artists address this relationship as a conflict between the human and the natural, between environmental degradation and environmental sustainability. In your paintings, the similar treatment of light, space, and pattern in both suggests that we can see the urban and rural as complements, not contradictions. Are there other thematic or conceptual considerations at play between these two groups of work?
Anne: By happenstance, in my studio I noticed a 12” x 12” Reflections: on Crossing painting close in proximity to another of the 12” x 12” La Nature paintings. The yellow next to the blue made a striking combination as a diptych, which together gave more interest and tension to a new composition side by side.
My tie and interest in structures along with imagery found in rural France reflect the urban life I lead in the Bay Area with summers spent in South West France. I suppose this is the yin and yang in my life, both places being complements and contrasts: the stimulation of urban life versus the calmness of the pastoral countryside. In each environment, the sense of space and light are present, giving opportunities to explore and work.
Articiple: Both these series portray movement and blur—in Reflections: on Crossing, the fleeting images seen from a moving vehicle; in La Nature, the ever-changing patterns of branches tossed by wind. In the first, the observer’s perspective is moving through a roadscape; in the second, the perspective is stationary while the subject (the branch shadows) seems to move. These positions make a counterpoint that seems to further reflect characterizations of urban and rural experience—one is busy, one is calm. Again, I wonder if there are other aspects of the relationship between movement and perception that are meaningful for you in these works?
Anne: In both cases, I am observing what catches the edge of my peripheral vision. With the abstractions of the Reflections: on Crossing paintings, glimpses of what one sees often, but not necessarily taking note, are caught in a designed composition I later construct. Viewers of my work often say the imagery is familiar but represented in a more abstract and mysterious way. As some become more abstract, the mystery is accentuated. For example, in one of my paintings, I see the edge of an outer planet, the light refracted and appearing as ice. Another depicts sheets of rain or snow within a wide band of the composition. Small human figures seem to appear standing on a diagonal line in another painting. In both the Reflections: on Crossing and La Nature series, I blur the paint, which gives a quality of movement to the appearance of a roadway or leaves of a tree.
Articiple: The curator Susan Hillhouse has suggested Agnes Martin and Richard Diebenkorn as antecedents in your practice of subtlety and precise abstraction. Are there other artists you identify as particular influences or inspirations?
Anne: I have an affinity for painters who work with the elements of light and space. Contemporary European painters such as Pierre Soulages, Hans Hartung, Gerard Richter and Anselm Kiefer impress me with their powerful works and application of paint. The more refined work of California artist Robert Irwin and various artists and sculptors of Southern California such as James Turrell and Larry Bell also have given me an appreciation of working with light and space in their art.
These artists made deep impressions upon me at first sight. One instance was seeing for the first time the light-rimmed spheres of Robert Irwin, where the edge between the sphere and light from behind was diminished. Also Hartung’s beautiful application of color and paint with markings on the surface. At an exhibit of James Turrell at the Guggenheim in NYC, looking up at concentric circles of light and changing colors was mesmerizing and similar to a psychedelic experience.
There are artists on both sides of my family. My paternal grandmother, Kathleen McEnery, who studied and had an art career in New York and exhibited in the Armory Show of 1913, has been a lasting influence. Her work has been exhibited posthumously in several museum shows. A San Francisco artist and former teacher of mine, Elaine Badgley Arnoux, has been an ongoing influence and source of inspiration for me in painting. I might also add certain architects such as Richard Meier, Frank Gehry, Snøhetta, and other contemporary architects where surfaces and uses of light and space are important features. In another lifetime previous or otherwise, I have imagined being an architect. Thus, my appreciation of architectural and engineered structures comes in contact with the artistic revelations I have in the everyday world.
Articiple: I’m intrigued by your use of reflections and shadows as subject matter. Both of them are fleeting and ephemeral—they exist only temporarily, and only from a particular point of view. How do you work with source imagery to develop the composition of a painting?
Anne: I use reference materials, photos I take as a basis for arriving at a composition that provokes and inspires me. Some paintings may suggest elements of the defined imagery of these photos or else lead to the more abstract or undefined, giving qualities that I find mysterious, surreal or of the outer world. These aspects evolve as I work on a painting over time.