Excerpts from the Weekly Press, Philadelphia, PA
Art Observer Column by Phebe Shinn
Muse Gallery is showing a particularly lively and interesting number of paintings by Susan Wallack called One Part Paradise, also the title of her signature piece. She combines her medium-sized paintings with collage, assemblage, and mixed media for a collection, mostly images of women, which is wonderfully and subtly colorful, decorated a pattern, exotic and yet controlled. Hers is a complex, layered approach — she paints, scrapes, chalks, sequins, sands, scribbles, and sparkles to create medium-sized compositions that are foreign and mysterious, set off in matching painted frames that become part of the whole piece. Many are long-necked women with decorative neck coverings, like the famous “Giraffe Women” of the Kyan tribe in Burma / Myanmar.
Her Divided Mind, a mixed media assemblage, is a horizontal piece containing a face, times three—several versions of a strange flat white face with glittering eyes, fully portrayed and also repeated in segments as if staring from a broken mirror. The background dotted with dabs of black, sparkles embedded in the paint, sections divided by vertical rows of shiny little coins—the assemblage is pulled together into a patterned whole. This is an ornamented construction with a touch of an eerie reality looking out at us.
In Compassion Waits acrylic on canvas, a squatting woman faces us squarely, knees up to her chin, bare feet splayed out. She's apparently wearing (or is it her second skin?) a leopard-spotted skin-tight suit. A zipper runs down the center of her body, dividing and designating her crotch, her buttocks, her thighs; her nipples are big and red. Her lengthened neck is covered in black speckles with white dots and a and simple border of red imply a head covering, perhaps Islamic hijab. She has hunkered down, defensive but brilliant in her yellow-spotted-covering. The painting is flat,, the figure part of the over-all pattern; perhaps she is a human butterfly pinned onto the canvas, and she stares at us with an ambiguous urgency.
Wallack's mixed media collage Monte Carlo, another medium-sized piece, presents another long-necked female, her great eyes staring intensely out from her clouded world, her heavy breasts hanging. The background is flat black, giving us no information. You discover that one arm has been cut off short and several drops of red blood spurt from the hole, a mutilation she seems not to notice. The other arm, long and sinuous, curls around behind her like a panther's tail, or a twinning snake. Multiple upstanding collars frame her face, cut into her cheeks, suggest a formal robe. The palette is luminous, the surface glitters. Are we seeing a priestess serving at a sacrifice, or a sacrificial victim, or a Sphinx presiding over the rite? Perhaps all three.
Susan Wallack's compositions are bright and burnished, definitely exotic, yet silent and unmoving, static but never placid. She has discovered them, described them, but not set them free.