Michod showcases range of techniques

ART: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, Thursday, October 2, 1986, page 86
Jan Cicero Gallery

by Sue Taylor


Each of Susan Michod’s elaborate new pictures seems like an inventory of painterly techniques. Her current exhibition at Jan Cicero Gallery, 221 W. Erie, through Saturday, consists of monumental paintings and smaller works on paper, all thickly painted, torn, collaged, spattered, sponged, sprinkled with glitter and infused with a spirit of love of nature and art.

Michod attributes the great variety of procedures involved in her work to years of teaching materials and techniques courses to commercial art students earlier in her career. She knows exactly what acrylic paint can be made to do, as well as how to build a suitable surface to receive it.

The big paintings in this show are multipanel extravaganzas in which real doors adjoin thin sheets of plywood covered with canvas and paper. Affixed to these supports are wood laths, bathroom tiles, wall trim even a louvered shutter-assemblage elements not randomly selected, but derived exclusively from the domestic interior.

The living environment is Michod’s subject, in the sense that she depicts both the rooms people inhabit and the natural world, alive with flora and fauna, light and motion. Sometimes she’ll focus on moments when an interior is invaded by forces from the world outside- a gust of wind, perhaps, fingers of light, blowing leaves, little horseshoe crab scurrying across the floor.

In “Matisse for Now,” to my mind the most successful piece in the show, inside and outside mingle in an ambiguous way. The title alludes to Matisse painting such as the famous “Piano Lesson” of 1916, where a quiet interior gives a view through a window of French door, past a wrought iron railing into a landscape below.

Michod adorns the railing with a series of graceful shapes seen through a terrace door, but the landscape inside with the mysterious beams of light emanating from a night sky. Giant milkweed pods explode into the air and crabs climb the walls, not without a suggestion of something sinister lurking in the shadows. Michod’s interiors, like the human mind and the world itself, are places where beauty and menace coexist.

These new works, despite their rich surfaces and generous accretions, seem almost restrained compared with the artist’s previous “environmental” paintings, surprising ensembles of color-coordinated chairs, toys and farm implements as well as painted canvases. Now Michod’s inventiveness is concentrated in two dimensions, on the painting instead of around it. Her interest in décor, however, remains intact, especially in the mural size pictures, at least one of which was a commission for a client’s home.

She has moved from an initial involvement with Pattern Painting in the late 1970s to larger problems of how to integrate expressive gesture, a love of decoration and concern for content that embraces nature and may be even spirituality. (Those celestial lights, for example, whose painted glow is both substance and energy - might they not point to something otherwordly, supernatural?). In many ways, this recent work is a great synthesis for Michod, and there’s a good reason for the exuberance that’s everywhere apparent in her confident and variegated techniques.

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