Seattle-based artist Susanna Bluhm’s new oil paintings portray abstracted landscapes based on photographs of Yosemite National Park. Conveying scenes of natural grandeur, the canvases conjure those of 19th-century American masters Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Cole. They also, however, feature brisk, animated brushstrokes; geometric and biomorphic shapes (often alluding to personal items, like garments and picnic components, meant to represent the artist’s own experiences of the park); and occasional words or phrases.
Happy Isles 1 (Hi Sweetie), 2014, is a spectacular, roughly 5-by-8-foot frontal view of a rushing stream with the title greeting spangled in red and pink across the top of the composition. Mist Trail 1 (Vernal Fall, Boy’s Lunch), 2014, is around the same size, offering an immersive experience. A white waterfall rushes down from the upper left corner, while snowy steps on the canvas’s right-hand side seem to lead the viewer upward. Along the stepped trail, bulging colored shapes are slapped down over the landscape. The triangular waterfall cascading between two mountain mounds at the top of Yosemite Falls and Forest Ghosts (2013, 97 by 73 inches) evokes female anatomy, recalling the supine nude figure in Duchamp’s Étant donnés (1946-66).
The small-scale Little Teepee (we’re older now), 2014, 15 inches square, skillfully fuses representation and abstraction. Diagonal, mostly red and white swaths of paint frame a black triangle, the forms coalescing into a loosely rendered teepee. The scene appears intimate and warm, as though welcoming the viewer into the teepee, while exemplifying Bluhm’s approach of combining photo-based imagery with subjective formal interpretation.
With her medley of marks (stripes, spots, dabs and drips), Bluhm presents landscapes as personal reverie, reminding us—in this age of environmental degradation—of the wonders of nature.