Encountering Dawn Csutoros is like walking into a rarefied atmosphere that makes the awareness of your own physical presence richer and more alive. Like her works, the artist seems to pulsate within a skin stretched too thin across a life lived in touch with itself too closely. Light, heat and power shimmer and burn within her, threatening to puncture the membrane that barely holds them in. The paintings in Poetics of Space are like photograms or body prints of the artist’s interior self; they exist as exposures of an inner world. Their abstract appearance seems misleading; the works instead appear to be deeply autobiographical, operating as emblems of certain passages between the artist, her life and the landscapes in which these relationships occur.
In an essay written in 2000, Dr Lwellyn Negrin described Csutoros’s method of directly applying pigment, chalks and paints to her paper and canvas as a form of massage: “She treats her surface more like a skin, with its own tactile qualities, rather than a flat, lifeless, two-dimensional plane.” Seven years on, the description is still accurate and perhaps reflects the artist’s commitment to tai chi and Eastern philosophies of living and making art. In Poetics of Space, Csutoros moulds slabs of almost pure colour into forms or bodies that seem to possess their own character and emotions. Coloured sites relate to each other through touch – a horizontal or vertical band of interaction seems to ignite them with a force that is greater than the sum of their parts. But it is in the borders and spaces of these paintings, where colours fuse and collide, that the emotionally charged regions lie: the points of frisson and the places where tension and passion resides. Dazzling, the edge of where these colour sites meet forces our eyes to shift and readjust, leading to a response that cannot be intellectualised, but must be felt. These paintings are for feeling with our insides.
Each painting stands like a monument to a particular, private event or emotion in Csutoros’s intimate world. Works such as Resonance I, II, III, IV, are laden with mystery and haunted by a sadness and sense of loss that seems to envelope their colourless expanses and forms. Csutoros blurs the horizontal bands of ‘light’, dismantling the pure binary of the immovable blacks and silent whites so that edges bleed into each other. Negatives and positives become shades of grey and separated bodies fuse across borders to affect their polar opposites. The artist discusses this work in terms of distance and space as it shifts over time – at some points in our life we are close and, at others, we are far apart.
Most of the titles for works in this series are taken from musical theory and description. The painting, Cadence, follows the Resonance works and indicates a shift that allows for a reintroduction of colour. Cadence is followed by a period of transition before the exhibition’s point of axis, the work Poeme, bursts into a bloom of hot power and joy; an emotion further explored in works such as Rapture and Reverie.
In Kandinsky’s major text, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (first printed in English in 1914), he discusses the correlation between abstract painting and music and their capacity to affect the soul through a kind of resonance or vibration of tone, colour or line, that becomes intensely powerful when we stop reading the narratives of an image or song and just use our senses to experience the work:
As the physical sensation of the coldness of the ice, penetrating deeper, can give rise to other, deeper sensations and set off a whole chain of psychic experiences, so the superficial effect of colour can also develop into a (deeper) form of experience. … Its primary, elementary physical power becomes simply the path by which colour reaches the soul.
In Poetics of Space, Dawn Csutoros’s works move us between different zones of meditative experience in a progression that seems to expand and contract time, intensify and desaturate colour to push us away and pull us close again, remind us that our eyes are both windows to the soul and the organs that deceive us most, and declare the space in which we engage and encounter Csutoros’s art, and through this herself, as an experience of immensity, passion and courage. We cannot, in the end, escape our own vulnerability: we cannot help but feel with our insides.
Celia Lendis 2007
Copyright © March 2007
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Celia Lendis Contemporary UK