A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, except for Gurrentz
Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose; flower is a flower is a flower is a flower.But not to the eye of Susan Gurrentz.To the Aspen painter, each individual flower has its own look, even its own personality, that distinguishes it from every other flower in the field. It is a way of looking at things that has allowed Gurrentz to paint flowers virtually her entire life, and to continue painting fervently, and keep finding new approaches.
“Flowers to me are like faces,” said Gurrentz, at her Willoughby Way home. “Each one is different and it’s up to me as an artist to show the difference between them. You can look at a person’s face and tell everything about them, and you can do the same with a flower.”Gurrentz’s latest series of paintings – almost all oil on canvas images of flower, with a few acrylic on Japanese rice paper cowboy works – opens this weekend at Aspen Grove Fine Art. Gurrentz will be in attendance tonight and tomorrow, Friday and Saturday, July 16-17, from 6 to 9 p.m.The gallery took every last one of Gurrentz’s recent paintings for the exhibit, a fact which delights the artist. But the walls of her home gallery are still filled with examples of her flowers, and demonstrate that Gurrentz does indeed have the ability to see every flower in a different light. Flowers interact with their backgrounds in all kinds of ways; they strike a variety of poses; the light hits them with varying intensity and from various angles. In her last series, from several years ago, the colors are pale and faded; where the new works, inspired by the Flemish school, are dramatic and theatrical, often depicted against a black background.To achieve the effect of individuality, Gurrentz tends toward the large scale. “I like big flowers,” said Gurrentz, who is also a skillful, and busy, portrait artist. “I like overscaling. Because it makes the flowers more abstracted. It takes them out of reality. The shapes and volumes become surreal. You take the subject, then, by plane and volume, rather than by subject matter.”
But Gurrentz sees flowers not just as physical objects, but as representative of the bigger picture of human existence. “Flowers are tiny little things,” she said. “But I see them as having strength and power. Flowers themselves become a metaphor for life and death, birth and rejuvenation. Reinvention. Disappearance and re-emergence. These are all implied in flowers.”While Gurrentz can speak fluently about the artistic appeal behind flowers, and describe the different approaches various artists have taken to the subject, she is anything but an art-school product. She studied art at Sarah Lawrence College, and then at Chatham College in her native Pittsburgh. Since then, however, she has been on her own; she can rattle off the list of classes she has taken in her adult life in a matter of seconds. (There were only two: a paper-making class at Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and a Sarah Lawrence-run program 20 years ago in Provence.) “After I graduated, I promised myself I’d never take another course or read another book I didn’t love,” she said. “I’ve always preferred to learn by myself, on my own. I want to do it my way. I have enough confidence in myself. And because of that, I don’t think my work falls into any school or category. I’ve just evolved what I’m trying to say about flowers.”
In a way, Gurrentz has led her own class of one. She travels frequently to museums and galleries, and reads plenty about other artists. The method has worked: since arriving in Aspen in 1961 – lured by seeing a Pittsburgh Ski Club screening of Warren Miller’s “Come Ski with Me,” and its images of Stein Eriksen skiing down Spar Gulch – Gurrentz has shown in a succession of top Aspen galleries, from Tom Thumb and Byrne-Getz to Barney Wyckoff and the Basalt Gallery.Gurrentz’s house is adorned with numerous paintings – all her own. (There is a Picasso vase on the kitchen counter.) When asked if she has other artists’ work hanging, she shoots a look as if to say, “What would I want with another person’s art? I’ve got all these flowers.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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