A Powerful Female Spirit Haunts the Art of Susannah Virginia GriffinOne of the Texas artist Susannah Virginia Griffin’s most affecting paintings is the acrylic on canvas entitled “All that Glitters.” In a vigorous flurry of gestural strokes, it depicts a faceless doll with long yellow hair, its bent, bow legs hardly suggesting those of a ballerina, even as they issue from a tattered cerulean blue tutu ruffled like the feathers of a dying swan. It is a poignantly affecting painting that at a single glance renders its title ironic. A diva unable to stand, one can’t help seeing this tatty Raggedy Ann figure as a symbol of dreams deferred. As with all of Griffin’s best paintings, the impact of “All That Glitters” arises out of the remarkable emotional content that the artist is able to impart to a simple image by virtue of the feeling conveyed in her brush strokes, as well as the vibrancy of her colors and the eloquence of her forms.
Another painting by Griffin called “Cycle of Life,” is especially notable for the former two attributes. For here Griffin’s brushwork is somewhat more subdued. What makes this image of a simplified bird, presumably in the process of making the transition from this life to the next one, so affecting is the skill with which the artist employs an expressive line, along with a combination of somber blues and more luminous yellows and blues. With these expressive elements, she depicts the avian form at final rest, as its soul rises up from it like a fiery red kite into the light. It is an image that appears to express simultaneously both the brevity of life and the eternalness of our essence. Primarily through form and color, Griffin embodies the notion that while flesh and feather may be mortal, energy never dies.
This is a concept that seems wholly in keeping with her personal philosophy and statements that she has issued concerning her artistic intentions, such as, “Anything and everything I see has life in it, and I draw what I see.”
Thus even the casual gesture of a woman in a backless dress, seen from behind, apparently raising a hand to shield her eyes, as she stands in a crowd watching a fireworks display erupt in the night sky, takes on an eternal quality in her painting “Venus.”
Susannah Virginia Griffin is also a strong abstract painter, as seen in compositions such as “The Marriage,” where two powerful forms interlock like links in a chain, yet also evoke a sense of struggle, and “Resistance,” where roiling gestural shapes suggest stormy surf. One is also impressed by the vibrant colors, succulent impasto, and muscular paint handling that enliven other abstract acrylics on canvas such as “Void” and “Drenched.”
However, it is Griffin’s images of the female figure that seem to haunt one’s memory long after seeing them. Among these, one of the most powerful is her painting of a woman in a simple garment, almost suggesting a primitive animal skin, standing in a desert protectively enfolding three small children. She is slender, appearing almost physically frail, yet she seems possessed of great strength. In this case, there is nothing ironic about the title: “The Warrior.”
–– by Maureen Flynn
Image Credits: Resistance, Paintings, 16 x 20
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