Written By Maria Porges
SUSAN GOLDSMITH, Valamore
Aged Silver Leaf with Pigment Print, Acrylic Paint,
Watercolors and Resin on Panel
20.50 x 20.50 in
In her exquisitely stylized images of nature--trees, skies, water; flowers, against the background of a garden or a pond-- painter Susan Goldsmith conjures up memories, even if we have never seen the places or things she pictures. Originally trained as a printmaker, Goldsmith continually experiments with process, layering color and light. Gold, silver or platinum leaf infuse each painting with a seductive beauty, even when the eye isn’t immediately aware of its presence.
Like Monet, Goldsmith has long been compelled by landscapes and flowers: color and form against earth, sky and water. For decades, she created gestural, abstracted images of these subjects with brush and fingers. Since the early 2000s, photographs have served as her generative material, creating a structure for the kind of mark-making she wants to engage in as she tries to find new ways of creating the sensation of physicality-- to make painting in which depth exists simultaneously as reality and illusion.
To create each piece, Goldsmith begins with one of the thousands of pictures she has taken of things that inspire her, on long walks in gardens, bird sanctuaries, or her own backyard in northern California. Some places and things are old friends, having been captured by her camera over and over-- a cherry tree near the Metropolitan Museum, for example, or fall colors in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. It may be days, months or years before she decides to use a particular image. Once selected, it is enhanced and edited on the computer and then printed onto a transparent film. Goldberg then skillfully back-paints certain elements, such as a flower or a bird. A panel, covered with poured resin and patiently-applied squares of metal leaf, then serves as the support for the film. More layers of resin follow, as well as selective enhancement with paint or oil pastels.
Developing through these many steps (taking days or weeks), the completed work becomes a repository of time-- paradoxically so, since its subject is ephemeral beauty in the form of blossoms, leaves or flying birds. Both physically and visually, the accumulated layers in Goldsmith’s paintings remove their subjects from us, preserving these visions of nature even as they remind us of their transitory loveliness. In this, they are related to the exquisite flower paintings of Rembrandt’s Golden Age. At the same moment, Goldsmith’s works draw on her lifelong love of Japanese culture, from the tiny nation’s distinctive gardening aesthetic to the glowing, golden backgrounds of painted fans and byobu: the tall paper screens once used in Japanese interiors to protect from drafts. Still, metal leaf was a natural addition to her palette of materials for another reason. The daughter of a jeweler, Goldsmith spent her childhood surrounded by beautifully-crafted pieces made out of precious metals.
Now more than fifty years into a life as an artist, Goldsmith continues to experiment. For her, there is no such thing as perfection, but rather a moment when an image is resolved-- held, like a dragonfly in amber, at a moment of golden beauty.