Susie Rosmarin

Dunn and Brown Contemporary, Dallas

Benjamin Lima

Susie Rosmarin, #411 Yellow-Red, 2008; Acrylic on canvas; 20 x 20 inches; courtesy the artist and Dunn and Brown Contemporary, Dallas

Susie Rosmarinís paintings at Dunn and Brown Contemporary demonstrate how complexity and subtlety can emerge from the methodical repetition of precisely defined patterns. The nineteen works on view (all acrylic on canvas) belong to four distinct series. Ten small paintings, numbered in sequence (#402 Violet; #403 Blue-Violet, etc., all 2008), strictly investigate modulations of one or two colors. Three Spectrum paintings (2008Ė09) range over the full rainbow with their palettes; the two largest, Spectrum #10 and #11, are the most engrossing works in the show. Four new works, named simply for colors, i.e., Red Painting and Red-Violet-Yellow, are the most harmonious and coherent in their weaving of complementary tones. Finally, two Pattern Paintings, dominated by candy-colored blocks of pink, purple, orange and yellow, strike a drastically different mood from the others: decorative, even fun-loving. These two works are so exuberant, in fact, that Iím not sure if they truly fit with the rest of the exhibition.

All the works on view repay inspection at the level of fine-grained detail. The paint, laid down by a complex process of taping and retaping, bears the traces of its application by hand in the form of occasional irregularities. These moments of unevenness are pleasing to encounter, in a way that computer-generated imagery can never be. Close attention also reveals how the ten small paintings (e.g., #411 Yellow-Red, a favorite of mine) are generated from a single basic unit composed as follows: Two matching side-by-side vertical bars form a tiny square (about one centimeter in size). Then, an L-shape formed by two additional bars encloses one corner of this square, together creating a larger square.

This compositional unit is repeated in a diagonal grid across the entire surface of each painting, with subtle adjustments in scale and color yielding overall interwoven patterns that appear to pulsate and vibrate together. Each grid features two pairs of light-colored diagonals crossing to form an X; the four points at which they intersect glow with extra brightness. In the center of the canvas, and in each space bounded by the paired diagonals and each corner, darker colors converge to form an array of shaded lozenge shapes. The grid of interlocked diagonals and the constant light-dark undulation, both clearly visible from afar, are produced by nothing more than the systematic repetition of the aforementioned basic units.

Susie Rosmarin, Diamond Pattern Painting #2, 2010; acrylic on canvas; 32 x 24 inches; courtesy the artist and Dunn and Brown Contemporary, Dallas

Rosmarinís work has been regularly identified as a species of Op Art. It is also associated, by virtue of historical circumstance, with a group of Houston abstract painters that includes Jeff Elrod and Aaron Parazette. While these connections are enlightening, one should be cautious about fully assimilating her painting to either category. As for the former, both the 1999 traveling exhibition post-hypnotic and this yearís Psychedelic: Optical and Visionary Art Since the 1960s (organized by the San Antonio Museum of Art and currently on view in Rochester), which include Rosmarinís work, associate Op Art with altered states of consciousness, whereas interpreting the paintings here calls primarily upon the faculty of reason (as opposed to that of imagination). As for the latter category, Rosmarinís meticulous, serially programmed repetitions are utterly distinct from the looser Pop inspirations of several other artists in this group; this is evidenced in the catalogue for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houstonís 2005 survey Restless, in the examples cited in Frances Colpittís astute 1995 Art in America article that first called attention to this group or, indeed, in Elrod and Parazetteís own recent shows at Dunn and Brown.

In my estimation, Rosmarin belongs to the scientifically minded subgroup of Op Art exemplified by Carlos Cruz-Diez, and I would suggest hanging a room of Rosmarins within range of the Cruz-Diez retrospective when it arrives at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in February. Cruz-Diez was included in the original 1964 Responsive Eye exhibition that established ďOpĒ as a keyword, and like that of the Venezuelan artist, Rosmarinís work forces the viewer to reflect, again and again, on how seemingly simple objective and geometric elements give rise to surprisingly powerful subjective sensations. The optical stimulation generated by the active colors supports a deeper, more metaphysical response: the thrill of imagining that the world is rationally ordered, and made for our understanding and pleasure.

Benjamin Lima is assistant professor of modern and contemporary art history at the University of Texas at Arlington.

This exhibition is on view through December 18, 2010.

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