Becky Suss’s exhibition, titled “Homemaker,” was a visually striking presentation of seventeen recent paintings. Most of the compositions portray domestic interiors with crisp lines and flat, unmodulated expanses of bright color. Absent of figures, the images nevertheless imply a human presence in rooms adorned with bric-a-brac, such as needlepoint wall hangings and Fiestaware. Suss convincingly articulates intimate details of clothing and decor, yet a sense of artifice prevails in the works, primarily because she eschews illusionism in favor of schematic forms and a rather abstract, shallow space. The images evoke the austerity of Minimalism, the geometric patterning of Islamic art, and the distorted perspectives often found in works by outsider or self-taught artists.
In Hallway (2017), an imposing painting some eight feet high and fifteen across, Suss offers a panorama of an interior space that resembles a stage set. The wooden balustrade on the left, set against a vibrant turquoise-blue wall, provides a rhythmic motif that leads the eye down the staircase and through the hallway on the right. Here, the sequence of depicted details, including a colonial-style cabinet and a partially open closet with clothes on hangers, a cap on a shelf, and boots on the floor, suggests a personal, psychological narrative, perhaps an allusion to a childhood memory.
In most of the paintings, Suss—who was born in 1980 in Philadelphia, where she currently lives—combines details from the homes of friends and family, especially those of her grandparents, reflecting a mix of Russian-Jewish and Irish heritage. Sometimes she bases the images on her memories of such spaces and sometimes reconstructs them with the help of photographs and objects she has gathered over the years.
One of the show’s most arresting works, Red Apartment (2016), portrays a kitchen with a searing red wall, an obvious nod to Matisse’s Red Studio (1911). Toward the right, the shelves of a tall blue hutch hold what appear to be antique leaf plates, a ceramic object depicting a pair of white birds, and a moka pot. The intricate, mesmerizing patterning of the tiled floor, in its intensity and rigor, recalls early grid paintings by Agnes Martin (whom Suss cited as a major influence in an interview published in the catalogue for her 2015 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia), as well as Moorish tile work.
In smaller paintings, such as Stars and Stripes Forever (2016), which mimics a needlepoint image of an American flag, and Victory Cookbook (2017), which depicts a vintage cookbook cover, Suss toys rather ineffectively with centralized images and Pop-style irony. The strength of her work lies in her ability to give psychological dimension and theatrical panache to more complex scenes dealing with themes of home and family.