At first glance, this artist’s works are just unified accumulations of marks. But of course they are journeys. They take her through an exercise of color and mark making to render tablets of zen. To stand in front of them is to take in an expanse of calm and structure, elegant respites in our hyperactive digital age.
The actual mark making is instinctive for Sue Contessa—the geometry of the arrangement isn’t primary. Before she starts painting, she establishes her rules—the color, the size and shape of the mark—even if she doesn’t know how it will end. “It’s fun to see that something else happens… I paint a million paintings in my head. I don’t have to paint them if I already know what they look like. I’m painting them to find out what they’re going to look like.”
Contessa works monochromatically, developing color stories through a range of hue and value. From there, the marks are added on with pencil and paint in however many layers it takes until she feels she’s done. In arranging them, she isn’t looking for machine-made perfection, she’s enjoying the tactile, meditative process to see where it takes her.
The work is about painting, not composition. “I don’t think of it as a pattern, I think of it as repetitive mark making. It just feels right. It feels like what I need to do… I feel very comfortable when the marks are organized.” When patterns do occur, it’s secondary. “Safari” is so named because giraffe-like spots are apparent in the piece and “undertow” is a reference to a water-like look of the motif.
Contessa started as a realist painter, graduating into this style because “when you paint realistically those marks become something else. The flowers, boats, people, whatever. They’re all made up of marks. I wanted to get rid of that as the subject and let the marks be what they are.”
Sue Contessa is represented by galleries in NYC and locally by Ripe Art in Huntington. For more, visit suecontessa.com.