“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” —Joan Didion, “Why I Write” (1976, the New York Times Book Review)
Most of us believe that artmaking is a premeditated expression of meaning. But some of us use artmaking to unearth meaning.
In “Bold Wanderings” at Mystery Print Gallery in Pinedale, contemporary artists Susan Durfee and Joseph Cipro exhibit paintings and mixed media pieces that exemplify this. The creation brought both artists personal and spiritual discoveries.
More importantly for viewers, and not by happenstance, the results of these explorations are beautiful, thought-provoking and reward repeated scrutiny. Durfee and Cipro are not only committed to their processes; they are masters of their crafts.
Durfee is a long-time Jackson arts and education administrator and instructor who has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Ucross Foundation. She received a Wyoming Arts Council Visual Arts Fellowship in 2013. Cipro has painted in over 10 countries on three continents and has lived and painted in the American West since 1974.
The married couple resides in Alpine. In addition to the show at Mystery Print, their work is on display this year in the Professional Building at St. John’s Hospital in Jackson, under the auspices of its Art & Healing program.
For each painting displayed in “Bold Wanderings,” Durfee chose to work while contemplating a specific unresolved relationship with a person or place in her life. Her color palette consists of swatches derived from faces in self-portraits and other studies.
A compelling example of her approach is “Uncertain Results.” On a gridded panel, a flat, looping ribbon or band appears to have drifted down upon a substrate of small tiles. The layers of the painting betray the dynamics between the individual and her relationships — which hues block each other out or allow others to shine through, and which shapes cut, engulf, blend or separate from others. The loosely rendered forms and interplay of transparent/opaque pastel hues set the painting in gentle but persistent motion. The sinuous foreground figure and its crowded, fractured background trade places; little squares tumble and shift.
“Portrait of a Woman in Water” is one of several works on paper in which Durfee has replaced the painted squares with strips of paper sliced from yet other portraits. In select areas of “Portrait of a Woman in Water,” the painted surface is incised and the repurposed strips are woven into it, creating gridded patches of embedded color in a buckled, leathery surface which suggest integration and disintegration at the same time, much like our mutable identities within human communities. If more of us could map and comprehend the landscapes of our relationships this way, painting might help us become saner (if not happier) people.
For Cipro, painting is a similarly personal meditative act, but more values-driven or even spiritual, and less intimate than Durfee’s. He describes his work as “a continuation of my wanderings inward and outward in search of perspective regarding personal growth and global changes.”
Acute observation, Cipro says, results in “knowing and feeling at home in the world, [and] also inspires awe and curiosity about what is beyond.” In this Pinedale venue, Cipro displays two major paintings inspired by the Wind River Mountains, an environment he has explored over decades.
The larger of the two, “Changing Places,” consists of four abutting vertical canvases in a four-square pattern, aswirl with pale greens, blues, and whites. From a distance, and to this Sublette County resident, the piece strongly suggests a huge map of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Cipro says the inspiration for it was indeed a set of contiguous topographical map quadrants, but the painting is not about a particular place at a particular moment. Instead, Cipro brings together 45 years of Wind River Range memories and topographies in a space/time composite that locals will find eerily familiar.
From a distance, the surface brushwork is flat and wispy, softly describing glacial lakes and drainages, undulating foothills and snowy peaks with a faux texture that one viewer favorably likened to warm wet fur. Up close, the painting becomes purely abstract. Drawn in by curious patterns and mother-of-pearl hues, the viewer finds airbrushed, daubed and stenciled patterns (spoiler alert: from onion-bag netting and random packing materials) coiling across the surface like an iridescent mist. The cosmos and the Continental Divide are one.
The exhibit also includes work from two of Cipro’s other series grounded in contemplative ambiguity: bracing, high-contrast investigations into the abstract possibilities of broken river ice and a trio of serene “Meditations” (oil on panel, each 12 x 12 inches) that could be studies of a planet, a selectively lit sphere or an empty bowl, emerging from gritty, glittering substrates.
Together, Durfee and Cipro propose artmaking and art viewing as opportunities for growth and discovery within — and connecting — our outer and inner universes.
“Bold Wanderings: Susan Durfee and Joseph Cipro” is on display through Feb. 28 at Mystery Print Gallery in Pinedale. Gallery hours are 1-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment: 307-749-3473.
Studio Wyoming Review is supported in part by generous grants from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, a program of the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources and the Wyoming Arts Council with funding from the Wyoming State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.