Suzanne Sbarge, Out on a LimbBy Mary Anne Redding, Curator and Director of Turchin Center for Visual Arts

Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.
—When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams

The artist leaves the arts administrator’s world of rational organized thought, retiring to her sacred nest where she spends the evening spinning secrets—strange surrealistic worlds inhabited by isolated dreams of Hieronymus Bosch conflated with the words of her grandfather and great grandfather, both scribal rabbis who passed down their love of mysticism to the cherished inheritor of their ageless knowledge.

Plant life, butterfly wings, iridescent pearls, sea creatures, land animals, and beautifully strange birds become the habitat for metaphors of fertility, regeneration, and both spiritual and sexual freedom. Suzanne Sbarge’s fascination with birds is inspired by the paradox between: “their freedom of flight and the stability of their domesticity.” The artist, through her acts of creation, undergoes a metamorphosis through divine agency, experiencing an awakening, an obsession, the hint of a tease, an ancient myth, an interrogation, a celebration of a life of hope in the midst of the chaos of the mediated world of nature—a world under increasing siege so poignantly revealed in Flood Song and Island.

Suzanne’s painted collages open doorways into the ambiguous space of the night: dreams brim with narrative probability yet remain resistant to literal interpretation. There are libraries of potential in a single image—the lyricism of worlds breaking apart to be restructured into new impossible possibilities, the lost physicality of paint and paper in our sterile digital age—memories and the songs of the birds. Music is important, a quiet reference to the self: the artist plays the accordion (a secret reveled) and married into musical royalty. The song continues.

I live with several of Suzanne’s collaged paintings; they haunt my nights and enrich my days like Margo Timmon’s lyrics, reminding me of connections that lie beneath the waves as rock becomes my anchor and bird becomes my dream, offering me endless skies to search for buried memories of art, experience, a shared passion for the desert and it’s ancient wisdom that draws us together through space and across time: I succumb to an alchemical longing.

Scientists have recently discovered a surprising super-massive black hole that estimates with great accuracy when starlight first filled our universe. On earth, we have always looked to the stars to find out where we are. Suzanne’s paintings speak to this searching. In Constellation 2, starlight cyclones through the tiny house and tunnels into the earth, providing a map for knowing where we are. Similarly, the figures in Clay Pigeon and Leopard II are bound to the map beneath their feet but look to the sky for a different kind of knowledge. Suzanne’s art reminds us indeed, that our world in all its mysteries is meant to be celebrated.

10 December 2017

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