Not There

4/13 - 5/5 2024

Susan Maddux
Wet Drapery

Wet Drapery

Wet Drapery

Not There is pleased to present Wet Drapery, an exhibition of painted and folded canvas works by Los Angeles-based artist Susan Maddux.

On the marble brow of Athens, six caryatids stand contrapposto, balancing the entablature of a temple on their heads. Their pleated garments cling to the protrusions of their knees and breasts with a thinness and translucency that belies the mass of the stone they were carved from. This disarming effect, known as wet drapery, was a common technique in ancient Greek sculpture that welded surface effects to material performativity. In the folded works of Susan Maddux, the notion of wet drapery undergoes a reinterpretation; rather than seeing through the illusion of wet fabric to a body, we see the weave of canvas duck through thin washes of diluted paint.

The management of viscosity, or the degree to which paint sits atop its substrate or bleeds through it could be one way of parsing the painterly concerns of art history; from the muddy impasto of Anselm Kiefer to the watery stains of Rebecca Morris. In the shallow dimensions of a painted surface, that fraction of an inch holds a great deal of information about the physical processes that the artist traffics in. Maddux begins, not with the conventional rituals of stretching and priming, but by soaking large pieces of canvas on the floor; a practice carried over from her experiences as a textile designer. She wields the smallness of capillary action as a watercolor technique writ large, where bleeding edges span the width of a room. The gradient color of her surfaces conjure the sunsets and atmospheric specificity of Los Angeles, the electromagnetic noise of television snow, psychedelic tie dye, and the Bokashi washes of Japanese woodblock prints, where color applied to a wet block achieves the fading conditions of skies and bodies of water. One could almost imagine the works in Wet Drapery as an extraction of the landscape gradations in Utagawa Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.

As a hapa Japanese-American raised in Honolulu, Maddux intentionally draws on the traditions of folded paper and cloth as a distinctly Japanese practice of lofting surface into volume, but the works in Wet Drapery also allude to the fine silk creases of a Fortuny Delphos gown, or the petals of a vibrant Hawaiian blossom, as well as the rectangular conversion of stiff wool tartan into the densely pleated Scottish great kilt. Maddux works begin with large surfaces of canvas laid out on the floor and are folded into wall-mounted sculptures which drape under their own weight. In their contraction, they tuck most of their surface area out of view, producing tension through an awareness of imagery we know to be there but cannot see. The work of Susan Maddux reminds us that the obscuring act of the fold anchors us to the hidden corrugations within our bodies: mitochondria and intestines, or the sutures in our skull, and to a central fact of perception that we can never see all of something at once.

Susan Maddux (b. Honolulu, Hawaii) is a Los Angeles based artist working in sculpture, collage and painting. Maddux received a BFA in Painting from the San Francisco Art Institute and had a decades long career in surface and textile pattern design and illustration in New York City. Her recent exhibitions include solo installations at the Los Angeles Design Festival (2019, 2023),Arts and Letters Nu’uanu in Honolulu (2022) and group exhibitions at the Rhett Baruch Gallery in Los Angeles (2023), Idolwild Gallery in Los Angeles (2023), Vetri gallery in Seattle (2023) and Upon Further Reflection in New York for NYCxDesign (2023).