Charles Borkhuis on Susan Bee's pop neo-expressionism

The face of noir


The stark, self-contained faces in Susan Bee's paintings accent a subjective interiority adjacent to the space of others that is in sharp counterpoint to the ominous menace that hangs over the coming events. There were no screams or facial displays of emotion surrounding these "desperate hours," but rather a deep dwelling in mood that somehow distances the subject from her "fate." The characters are about to go through something "shattering," but their expressions let us know that they won't really be there when it happens. They are watching it happen to someone else as when one stands beside one's self and observes the body going through its motions. To my mind, Bee's paintings offer a profound look into the face of noir that sees one's fate leading to disaster but is powerless to stop it. What is so moving to me about these paintings is the choice not to be there when "it" happens, to chose not to give one's self to the oncoming event, to say in effect, there is a part of me that is unavailable to my fate. Perhaps this is something that separates Greek tragedy with its over-the-top outpouring of emotions from the quieter, more self-contained, modern feeling of the tragic.

 pictured: Desire  (2010, 14 x 18", oil on linen); from Susan Bee, "Recalculating" at A.I.R Gallery (Brooklyn) through June 19

Charles Borkhuis is a poet and playwright. His books include Afterimage, Savoir-fear, Proximity (Stolen Arrows), and Alpha Ruins.