Susan Michod, Jan Cicero Gallery

ARTFORUM, March 1983, page 83
Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago

by Judith Russi Kirshner


For Susan Michod, a child’s sense of fantasy provides an escape from the limitations of pattern and decoration. Her earlier paintings were highly organized abstract compositions with small angular forms stamped in pale colors on unstretched canvases. They conjured up associations of Southwestern Indian rugs and elaborate interlocking puzzles with the artist’s pleasure in calm steady repetition an important part of the work’s content. In Michod’s more recent paintings the pattern is still there, out in a honeycomb network relegated to the background: the association is now with embroidery or appliqué rather than with weaving. Michod’s palette has become deeper, richer, and denser, her brushstroke looser and more painterly. The repetition remains but the subject matter is now representational fragments of landscapes or underwater vistas, prairie grasses are straw yellow, and luscious pink or subaqueous scenes have the texture and appeal of black lace over hot pink satin. Underwater caverns emerge from the midnight-toned acrylic melting and dripping like rain on windowpanes.

The strongest works in this exhibition are the theatrical environments in which patterns and paint are no longer confined to the canvas but spill out and sidle over to adjacent objects and furniture. In these installations gardening tools, furniture, and children’s toys are displayed in front of and coordinated with the formal motifs and thematic devices of the paintings. The canvases have been scaled up to become fantastic 6-by-10 foot backdrops for domestic spaces. The cliché of the painting over the sofa has been inverted and the sofa is not only decorated but becomes a key element, a character in the narrative.

Michod’s move to surrealistic stage design has afforded her a richer range of imaginative play and formal invention. In Entropous Octangle, 1981, an orange Bertoia chair becomes a sea monster squatting against a swirling turquoise backdrop. A group of freestanding cultivators are planted around the chair, undermining its conventional function and protecting it from the viewer who might hesitatingly sit on its painted surface to risk participation in its whimsical underwater narrative. Swaying reeds and swimming squids, the painted equivalents of the transmuted gardening tools, animate the background: the main protagonist is an explosive octopus, whose curvilinear tentacles arabesque across the painting. In the grotto of Denizons, 1982, a dusky space is draped with pink and peach colored webs, a delicate tracery that coalesces into stalactites. In this work, the most dramatic in the exhibition, an enormous bat with wings spread looms over a coordinated upholstered brown armchair also infected with the dripping webs, as it is an end table with paint sneaking up its base. Michod delights in this contagious visual rhyming, adding a tractor seat and transforming a rake into a sprouting plant. Finally, a tiller metamorphosed into a giant mantis is placed in front of this scene and nudges its way into a space it matches. Having chosen flora as her preferred synonym for decoration, Michod invents analogous fauna. Her orchestration of two and three-dimensional fauna objects that extend the painted characters into our space recalls the mood of Walt Disney’s Fantasia in which constant fantastic transformation is rule of the day.

The situational aspects of the more ambitious environments are missing in a group of smaller paintings, where an attached shelves the narrow stage that supports the related accessory. The attached are camouflaged with the same pattern painted on the canvas, allowing Michod to make comparisons between a hair dryer and a black and yellow insect, a squeegee and a flower, a toy tractor and a rearing dragon. Michod’s work is fueled by her immediate surroundings, the accoutrements of domesticity and motherhood. It is populated by children’s playthings and animated by child’s spirit of fantasy.

Jan Cicero Gallery
230 W. Erie St. 312-440-1904