The show card for Susanna Starr’s “hyperglo!” at Marcia Wood Gallery looks like a glow-in-the-dark psychedelic poster from the 1970s. The vividly colored artwork and curvy logo font evoke memories of the trippy children’s show “H.R. Pufnstuf.” Starr’s work, which blends sculpture, painting, and installation, changes as you move around it; I found myself bobbing in a circle, examining it from all sides, and blowing on it to see how it changes. This show offers up work that’s fun to interact with, and blurs the boundaries between 2-D and 3-D art.
Starr is interested in the physical manifestations of color. The works are made of hand-cut Mylar painted with a palette of eye-popping fluorescent colors. The thin, translucent Mylar both absorbs and reflects color, giving the impression that the material is just a floating field of color. Starr cuts these Mylar sheets with an X-acto knife into shapes reminiscent of granny’s crocheted doilies. She then layers three to five differently colored patterns on the projecting wall mounts, each layer separated by just a few inches of space. As you look through the front of the works, you can see the outlines of the other colors peeking through the front. Adjust your height, pan right or left, and the shapes change and move with you like a flat, morphing figure. Look over to the side of the work, and the art becomes a 3-D object as the overlapping shapes produce a colorful cylinder receding into the wall.
Starr demonstrates how scale distorts our perception of color in two pieces, Morning Glory (23 by 23 by 12 inches) and Shangri-La (49 by 49 by 12 inches). These two works use the same doily pattern, although the negative space becomes much more apparent in the larger piece. In Morning Glory, the tight pattern makes the colors pop out more and play with each other in intriguing ways. The larger Shangri-La looks more like lace, and there’s less interplay of color as you move around the piece. The two works have a completely different arrangement of color layers. Shangri-La leads with black and dark red, green, and blue, thus making the piece seem shadowy and receding. Morning Glory leads with blue and finishes with black, which gives the sense that the colors are being pushed forward. This thoughtful exploration of form and design shows how color, and our perceptions of it, can be easily manipulated by the artist.
The intense amount of handiwork that goes into these pieces is apparent. You can see the delicate, hand-cut lines Starr cuts out of the Mylar. To amplify the doily effect, she cuts her shapes slightly irregular, creating the outline of a string crocheted by human hands. There are even spaces where the string would be knotted up, and Starr makes sure these shapes are cut into the pattern. The thin, gauzy lines Starr cuts out must take tremendous effort, and I imagine her material is not very forgiving.
The way these works interact with the natural light in the gallery is intriguing. Below each of the pieces are multiple shadows of complex patterns, forming even more complex shapes against the wall. I was told that the artist isn’t too keen on the shadows, but I think they add so much to the work. The dense piece another time another place had the most beautiful shadow pattern. Layered pink, blue, green, and black, this one did not have much negative space, so there wasn’t the same morphing color pattern as the other works in the show. What this piece did possess was a much more elaborate and interesting pattern, and wall shadows that echoed the beautiful shapes.
Starr’s work manipulates and distorts colors to create bold, fantastical patterns. Imagine shutting your eyes really tight and seeing pulsing, fractured patterns of color shoot across your closed eyelids. The delicate patterns swirl with color as you move around the works, almost like a spinning hypnotist’s aide. The fact that these works can shift between drawing and sculpture invites viewing from all angles. They possess a playful levity that makes their minimalism even more enjoyable.
Matthew Terrell writes, photographs, and creates videos in the fine city of Atlanta. His work can be found regularly on the Huffington Post, where he covers such subjects as the queer history of the South, drag culture, and gay men’s health issues.