Suzan Frecon is an old-fashioned painter, and it’s about time one showed up. Approaching the large abstract paintings in her recent show was similar to walking up to a big, resonant Veronese. No time here for disgruntled stunts or identity politics: Frecon possesses a deep belief in the power of color and in the efficacy of painting materials to convey that power. She is content, with Baudelaire, to “sing the ecstasies of spirit and sense.”
Frecon’s large paintings (9 feet tall) consist of two panels, stacked vertically. She builds in a stately, even grand presence by constructing the rectangles’ proportions according to the golden section. The compositions, meticulously worked out in advance, are essentially horizontal bands with bulges pressing in from top, bottom or the seam between the panels. They bring to mind the simplest Milton Avery landscapes writ really large, evoking sky, land and water. At times the paintings also suggest architectural interiors with arches.
Frecon’s handling of color and densities of oil paint is particularly distinctive. She favors unnameable deep reds, red oxides, terre vertes, ochers and variations of a very special ultramarine blue, working her magic in surfaces that range from nuanced, luminescent ultra-glossy to uninflected, light-absorbent matte. The works were shown at Zwirner, according to Frecon’s preference, with no artificial lighting during daytime hours, only illumination from skylights, so that the surfaces flickered and changed with passing clouds. Even the passage of gallerygoers in front of the paintings noticeably affected their tonality. Though probably fairly direct, the exact colors are difficult to identify (similar to the green-blue-grays in Brice Marden’s 1971-72 “Grove Group”) because of their physical composition, including the ratio of linseed oil to pigment. (Frecon has secret recipes.) Knife-sharp edges are contrasted with areas of see-through color and dense, even flatness.
Soforouge (2009) presents the usual two-panel arrangement, painted in increasingly lighter colors from bottom to top in the “burnt” earth-red range. A broad arc leans in from the bottom edge of the lower panel, while a more contained haystacklike hump rises from the bottom edge of the upper panel. Pretty simple—four colors—but a great deal goes on where the colors meet and in the expanses of layered color between meetings. In Composition in four colors 2 (2010), the lower panel has a truncated ellipse at the bottom edge. It’s painted one of Frecon’s jewel-like layered blues, surrounded by a version of red-ocher. The upper panel has a deep terre verte at the top, and a broad red oxide arc changes direction toward the edges, creating the feeling of landscape, the blue at the bottom like water. In its dignity and simplicity, this was altogether an exhilarating show.
Photo: Suzan Frecon: Composition in four colors 2, 2010, oil on linen, two panels, 108 by 873⁄8 inches overall;
at David Zwirner.