“Susanna Coffey could be called the Robert Ryman of self-portraiture,” according to New York Times art critic Ken Johnson. Aside from her signature portraits though, Susanna Coffey consistently pursues other subjects. More recently, she exhibited a series of flower paintings (at the Jerald Melberg Gallery) in South Carolina. In the body of work leading up to that, the flowers were usually shown with paintings depicting war and devastation. Presented on their own, the flower paintings read very differently, and more importantly remind us of Coffey’s constancy as a painter first and foremost.
To work at painting is to work at many things, including the perception of color. We see that kind of effort in Coffey’s night paintings. Shown at PEREGRINEPROGRAM for the first time as a group, these small landscapes were all made at night, painted in the dark. This practice of observing the appearances of darkness is motivated by a studious love and by the need to “renew” the painter’s eyes. In painting landscapes without green trees, she has to learn to sidestep conventional ways of using color.
Coffey attributes the start of the series to Millet’s Starry Night at the Yale Art Gallery. That picture challenged her to study and paint the color of night, and over the years she has continued to make night paintings, often in late fall or winter, in the countryside or urban parks. The most recent paintings were made this March, looking at Grant Park from a rooftop after a day of teaching. PEREGRINEPROGRAM is pleased to present a selection of this work in Night Painting 1995-2010.