Boston-born Susannah Phillips might just be my new “go to” for contemporary abstract art. Trained in London and from a family with artistic sensibilities, Phillips’ moody landscapes and still lifes serve as a great entry into contemporary art for my clients just climbing the first wrung of building an art collection.
To me, Phillips work is a natural progression of the works by great artists of the mid-20th Century. She often creates series of works based on a single landscape or still life arrangement, painting the same image over and over to capture subtle changes in light and atmosphere.
Landscape 13 is characteristic of her work. In a way it reminds me of the works by Nicolas de Stael, where the artist deconstructs the natural landscape to render blocks of color void of trees, vegetation and any form of life. I love the contrast created by the solid swath of white that draws the viewer past the black, menacing rock forms towards the grey mountains in the distance. Because this is abstract (vs. figurative or realistic) it works well with traditional interiors where it could provide a much-needed jolt of modernity and also fits perfectly into modern rooms where a Barbizon country scene just doesn’t work.
I have long been an admirer of Italian artist Giorgio Morandi, whose still life paintings are abstract art in perfection. It’s more about shapes and colors than representing articles as they actually appear. In Phillips’ still lifes – much as in her landscapes – these objects are reduced to simply colored shapes on the canvas. Rusty Knife (first image) presents a more classic still life where a viewer can easily discern what the objects are, but images such as Cupboard with Pink Cloth and Still Life with Funnel could almost be futuristic cityscapes. Everyone who looks at these images will pick out something different that draws their focus. It’s the perfect conversation piece to hang in a living room or office where it will engage its viewers.
Even in her figural portraits, Phillips can’t escape the urge to reduce reality to basic carnal forms. In Artist & Model, a shadowy figure hovers over a reclining woman. One may see this as a menacing, sinister encounter while others might view it as the title suggests, as an artist at work quietly studying his subject. It’s the lack of definition and clear detail that allows the viewer to take control of the scene and create a story to play along side each image of her abstract art.
Susannah Phillips is one artist whose work I will be watching closely to see what direction it takes next.
Richard Rabel is a New York Interior Designer and Principal at Richard Rabel: Interiors+ Art, a studio offering residential design, decorating and art advising.
image credits: abstract art: Susannah Phillips. The artist is represented by Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York