Landmarks: A Sense of Place CERAMICS, DRAWINGS and textiles by susie rubenstein

If a work of art is a projection of feeling, its kinship with organic nature will emerge, no matter through how many transformations, logically and inevitably. (Suzanne Langer, American philosopher)

I write these words in a house several thousand miles distant from the residence and studio of the artist, Susie Rubenstein. Many of the shelves in this house, my home, are graced with Susie’s ceramic works, made over the decades during which she has been a colleague and, most importantly, a treasured friend.

A walk through the rooms of this house can follow the course of Susie’s progression as a visual artist and ‘maker’ over many years. Of all the pieces in my possession one is especially treasured. It is perhaps this piece which best tells of its journey from conception in the mind to realization in the world and of something also shared with the works featured in the fine exhibition of "Landmarks: A Sense of Place". The piece in question is a small, rectangular container, raku fired, with a landscape navigating the corner surfaces of the work’s four sides. Although functional it is not representational. Within the shape and surface of the form I recognize and sense the terrain of Central California and of other landscapes we have both known and shared. It is earth re-imagined, transformed through the artist’s memory and purpose, the lightness of her touch, the heat of the kiln.

Daytime Landscape

For millennia artists have used the landscape as inspiration for their work. It is neither novel nor new to interpret the surroundings in which one resides or through which one travels and to give them expression as two or three dimensional works of art. Yet, Susie Rubenstein’s work -in all her media - refreshingly presents a unique, personal understanding of the world and place she inhabits. She does not rely on photographs as a visual record from which to work . She looks attentively, then stores the visual and emotional responses of daily observance for later interpretation. I am curious whether she conceives the vision and form of the work outdoors at the time of its first imprint on the imagination or at a later time in the studio through direct engagement with her materials.

Texas in Springtime

Susie is acutely aware of her inhabited landscape and environment, both in their large, broad views and the intimate, smaller, often unnoticed details. Several years of youthful living on a homestead in California’s Humboldt County have helped to shape her work. Another influence can be gleaned from her description of being deeply moved among the rolling hills of Texas in Springtime as she observed the Blue Bonnets and Indian Paintbrush in bloom. In recent years there are frequent drives up Highway 57 in Southern California that offer views of mountain ranges in clean morning or dusty evening light; there are walks and runs near her home in the Fall as the wind blows through the eucalyptus trees scattering their leaves into wonderful patterns on the ground. And then there are the birds. Gathered high above on power lines or in the branches of trees they seem to call for her notice and response. This artist lives in a most insightful way with a perceptive understanding of her place in the world, be it urban or rural. Out of the life, as out of the clay, grows the work.

Birds at Rest

The work is challenging and reaches far beyond ornament. There is a vibrant tension in the series ‘My World in Balance’ where the large arm-filling vessels seem to balance precariously on their smoothly rounded bases. Viewed alone, these earth-toned bases are soft and sensual, almost demanding to be caressed. However, as soon as the large vessels are placed upon them there is a coupling of form, shape, and pattern that is unsettling. Like glacial erratic boulders laid down on a hillside the vessels seem both restless and at rest. The striking black and white patterns only heighten the contained liveliness that seems to call for our protective embrace.

My World in Balance

There is clear evidence of physical process within these larger ceramic works. After the initial throwing of the base form comes the coiling up to the final size where the artist then concentrates on edge definition. Edges are central to this artist’s work be they in pattern or in form. Yet what is an edge but a point of stasis or of rest? If her drawings are indeed contained by their edges that is but a physical limitation. They are unconfined in terms of their content. Her fabric work must also have its bordered edge but these give life to the movement of pattern within the cloth. And in her ceramic work both pattern and design encourage the viewers’ eye to venture beyond the limit of any surface edge to discover further secrets of the form.

Birds in Whorl, Charcoal on Paper, 108" wide x 60" high

What is evident in Susie Rubenstein's long and successful practice as a visual artist is her acuity of mind. Her work, always truly personal, is a constantly renewed expression of the ethereal experience of place transformed into tactile material. It is singular and unique. There is evidence in her creative process of a clear and constant re-examination of line, of form and of their execution. It is as a result of this insistent cross-examination of craft and intent that the work in this exhibition and over the years reveals a journey guided by deep personal experience and the sure touch of an exceptional artist.

Gypsy Ray, 2015

Four views from the exhibit
Cock and Serpent

Charcoal on Paper, 3 panels, each 52" wide x 120" high

Path to Dock: Bear Island, Maine

Bound and stitched resist-dyed cotton, 3 panels, each 44" wide x 36" high

Rocking Houses

Mid-range stoneware, oxidation fired, slab construction

Thrown and altered porcelain and stoneware, draped slab lids
Distant Landscape: Thrown and altered porcelain
From left: Distant Landscape, Many Moons, Lemon Jars
Many Moons: Bound and stitched resist dyed cotton, each panel 24" wide x 21" high
Autumn Eucalyptus: Thrown and altered porcelain leaf forms on stitch resisted and dyed cotton with additional sewn lines, 100" x 100"
Autumn Eucalyptus: detail

The process of taking from nature and repurposing its gifts is the heart of Susie Rubenstein’s art. In one instance, she can move among her fruit trees, selecting the fruit with care and making it into a delicious pie. In another, she can coax powerful associations from the shapes she fashions out of clay. With each object, each vessel Susie sets out to make there is an understanding that the simple block of clay will become not just a beautiful and functional artwork, but also the catalyst for memories around the dinner table or tea with a good friend.

Susie’s art vibrates with natural forms, calling the viewer back to open skies filled with birdsong. There is an inherent respect for the time it takes to find the form and bring it out, allowing it to reach its full potential in the hands of the one using it. From her hands Susie focuses her energy and insight into an ordinary object, reminding the viewer of the overlap we see in nature between the simple and the complex.

In the decade I have known Susie, she has continually inspired her students to make connections in the studio, imparting to them her principles of giving life to the object. The reception for her solo exhibition in the Mt. San Antonio College Art Gallery was packed with students and colleagues alike, a testimony not only to her creative scope and ability, but to her giving nature. The exhibition brimmed with beauty and elegance, filled with her ceramic vessels and stunning large scale drawings.

There is such finesse to all Susie Rubenstein does, selecting fruit, taking from life, transforming the organic to preserve the experience and make another. Her work is about sharing with others, coming full circle from fruit to pie or clay to vessel. It is the time spent in conversation, or spent holding art created for connection.

- Fatemeh Burnes, 2015

  • Gene Ogami, Photography
  • Gypsy Ray, Introduction
  • Fatemeh Burnes, Gallery Director
Created By
Susie Rubenstein
Gene Ogami

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