Dawn Csuturos is an artist who shifts easily between figuration and abstraction. Her work in this exhibition moves between these two poles effortlessly. Despite these conceptual extremes, the work displays such confidence and resolution that these works are simply points along a continuous line between the references to a known and familiar world and the world of the interior. Both have universal connections.
In works such as Reverie 1 and Reverie 2 the images are readily recognisable as plant forms although they are treated as designs which rely more on their formal and compositional qualities than on faithful representations of particular flower types. They have been reduced to a rich colour field within a tight compositional structure. When regarded this way their relationship to more purely abstract work like Codex is really quite close and quite logical. Between these types of work Evolution 1 and Evolution 2 do nothing more than suggest their biological origins.
Lotus Garden is an interesting link in this group as it synthesises the concept of a garden into its pure formal elements. It still carries the essence of the garden within it. The quiet field of colour suggesting the luxurious green of the garden while the lines running down the work imply reflections on water. This is a work which can be fully appreciated without a knowledge of its title yet it contains within it the essence.
There is great richness in the way in which Dawn Csuturos uses the simple medium of pastel on paper. Taking a very humble material, she applies it in shifting layers of vibrant colour, gently toned and blended to create seamless transitions from one aspect of the work to another. She works by applying the pastel and then working it into the paper with her hands, blending and grading the tone and colour directly with her fingers.
Her forms are evocative, usually suggestive rather than descriptive, connecting instantly with universal and elemental forms. The reduction of form to its simplest elements is a way of stripping out everything which is not essential to the composition until what is left is a more pure and timeless form, one which relates across cultural and art historical boundaries.
In works like Pink Cloud and Guardians the artist’s view is moving outwards. The composition is not contained within the boundaries of the paper and is not so strictly based upon the interior rectangle of the paper. In these works the simple horizontal line is the element on which the composition is centred. It suggests the horizon but that is its only connection to landscape or anything representational.
This development is complete in Codex in which two bands of rich orange and red hover above and below a central line. These fields of shimmering colour are further bounded by strips at the top and bottom, where the pastel has been removed revealing a subtle and simple surface and the quality of the paper beneath the pastel. Connections between a work like Codex and the work of some late abstract expressionist painters like Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko are suggested, and they are reasonable connections to make. In such works Dawn Csuturos has entered a more universal and timeless space.
Works like Codex invite contemplation. They are deceptive in their simplicity and their minimal compositions. Quiet regard of this work rewards the viewer with a window into something beyond. At an instinctual level we respond to the richness and intensity of colour and the delicacy of its application. The lack of a compositional boundary implies something larger and more extensive, as if this was a slice of something larger, possibly infinite. In this way it also approaches the sublime.
This aspect of contemplation is important in the experience of the works in this exhibition. Their quiet intensity engages the viewer immediately, one is drawn to the soft luxury of surface and the primal intensity of the colour. But these works go far beyond those immediate responses and invite the viewer to stay longer and to enter the quiet space of contemplation, even meditation which they offer. This engagement is deeply rewarded as one senses that these compositions are really a synthesis. They are the essence which remains once al non-essential elements have been removed, step by step, until what remains is deceptively simple. The “reductionist” method ensures that the work has a sense of “completeness” and “rightness” which can only be arrived at through this synthesising and reduction to essentials.
The timeless quality of many of Dawn Csutoros’ works deries from this principle and allows a universal appreciation of the work which can reach across cultural boundaries and personal history to a place which is both more general and more personal at the same time. In this way they connect with a sensibility more familiar to the art of Japan andthe east, just as the abstract expressionists had done. These artists looked to eastern art to understand the power and timelessness of reduced and elegant compositional structures, which, while they may derive from nature, go beyond that to a more transcendent level.
Dawn Csutoros understands these principles and her subtle and powerful work is prrof of that principle.
Sean Kelly 2003
Contemporary Art Services Tasmania Australia