Point of View: How We See, How We Tell, and the Art of Susan Michod

Chicago Odyssey: Portraits of Chicago Artists, Chicago Printworks Gallery

Carol Hamel


The Odyssey is one of the earliest works of narrative, epic fiction. Written at a moment when oral traditions were changing over to the written word, it is an example of a sustained epic partially based on history, existing stories, and the genius of a writer who knew how to spin a tale for his audience. It is an amazingly modern narrative, in that we see things from multiple points of view: through an omniscient narrator, through Odysseus himself, through, among others, the eyes of his son Telemachus and his wife Penelope. This modernity is seized upon by James Joyce in his 1920 version, where a major theme is the creation of a personal language, a voice given to various characters, and in particular, stream of consciousness. It is also Joyce's attempt to subvert his Jesuit education, where he saw language as a prison.

Susan Michod is an artist haunted by different ways of seeing and telling: the Renaissance revolution in 3D perspective and the 20th Century revolution against it. Michod, fully knowledgeable and capable of these illusionistic devices, chooses to subvert them, like Joyce, in canvasses that have, throughout her career, played with patterning, surrealism, and the 20th century's modernist obsession with the surface plane.

Throughout her career as a painter, Michod has been fascinated by patterns. Many of her series - such as "Shrouds," "Masks," and "Perception" - use the technique of repeated patterning spread out over the canvas. Here the eye of the viewer is free to roam unfettered by vanishing point perspective. Nothing is given precedence; there is no hierarchy, no prescribed point of view; the viewer's gaze may wander freely.

In her recent series, "Rationality of the Imagination," Michod juxtaposes scenes taken from early Renaissance artists such as Giotto, Duccio, and Masaccio, with overlays from Joseph Albers' series "Structural Constellations," in which Albers is interested in positing multiple viewpoints. Thus Michod's "Rationality of the Imagination" refers both to the mimetic genius of the Renaissance and then challenges Renaissance perspective with the modernist and postmodernist multiple viewpoints utilized by artists such as Albers and James Joyce.

In Michod's portrait, images are lifted from her homage to Giotto, the 2009 "Expulsion of the Devils." She is photographed as if reaching toward the "Devils" being expelled, draped in a fabric reminiscent of Giotto's monk, while her face is enclosed in an Albers "Isometric Drawing." The portrait celebrates the idea of viewing the world from multiple view points, rather than only through a Renaissance lens. The blue paint of the background meets the photographed Susan like the tides rolling in on the sand of a beach. THe outline where they meet is not illusionistic but artificial: We see paint and the photographic print confronting each other. Painting meets photography. Photography meets painting. The Quattrocento meets the 20th and 21st Century. Different points of view, different ways of telling a story, different ways of thinking about seeing.