vivian suter

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Vivian Suter: the artist who lives in the rainforest and paints with fish glue, dogs and mud

Ignored for decades, Vivian Suter was rediscovered as a pioneering “eco-artist”. We meet her, as well as her mother, a 97-year-old “collagist”, in the wild nature of Guatemala.

Vivian was born in 1949 on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, but after the seizure of power by Juan Perón and his justicialist party in the 1940s and the plan to nationalize the country's industries, her father sold his printing press and the family moved. in Basel. It was a difficult transition for young Vivian Wild (her mother), but she entered art school at 17 and was married at 19 to Martin Suter, a writer.

The paintings Suter made in his twenties were tighter and more structured; she layered paint and paper to form crowded compositions that bent and twisted into strange shapes. His art adapted in part out of necessity; she found that not only was it difficult to ship heavy pigment work, but she had fewer materials at her disposal. His strokes became looser, the painting finer, his process freer. As an alternative to layering paint, she began layering the manta, or cotton, which she now paints, hanging compositions in airy, overlapping arrangements. “I didn't want to do a concept before my paintings,” as she often did, she says. “I wanted the painting to show me, not to force me the other way. I wanted to be surprised by what I did. »

For years, she worked largely under the radar, showing the occasional job here and there. But it was in Basel, once again, that another opportunity arose. In 2011, Adam Szymczyk, then director of the Kunsthalle Basel, recreated the 1981 group show in which Suter had appeared; he quickly gave her a solo exhibition at the institution, placed her in an exhibition at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico and, most importantly, showed her work in the Athens and Kassel editions of Documenta 14 in 2017. This time , she was ready for the show.

If SUTER'S paintings expressed a more painstaking effort to find her way through natural forms, the environment now seems to speak through her in bursts and sighs - and Suter welcomes the elements into her work. When Guatemala was hit by two hurricanes, Stan and Agatha, in 2005 and 2010, respectively, her home was flooded and much of her work was flooded with water and mud. But disasters have also brought restorative discoveries. When she opened an unpainted, waterlogged manta, she found the earthy residue had expressed itself in a series of delicate Rorschach-like shapes that looked like x-rays of exotic plants or insects. “It was like a miracle, you know, just beautiful,” she says. "It was very special, like a gift." She calls the painting the Virgin Rorschach.

Echoes of this form now appear in several other recent works, one of which hangs above his bed. Its loose, orange-red circles and swoops are bifurcated by a wobbly white line running down its axis. “Like a spine,” she says. There are other occasional allusions to animal or human life in his work, such as in a painting that currently leans against the wall of his studio. It shows the sketchy form of a figure in profile emerging from a thick patch of white paint. There are also paintings of dogs. In one, their faces form an almost integral pattern, their disembodied heads floating in pictorial space. There is very little separation between mammals and flora, between Suter and the palm trees and monarch butterflies in his garden. Being in nature, moving, creating the art she wants - "This," she says, "is the freedom I give myself."


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