Get Visual: Painted Stories: Susan Hoffer at LGAP

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In a time when many museums and galleries are closed to the public, those few that continue to fulfill their mission of mounting new shows that can be viewed in person are especially valuable.

One of those crucial venues is the Lake George Arts Project’s Courthouse Gallery in Lake George Village, which hardly skipped a beat in its exhibition roster through the pandemic, and currently hosts an outstanding solo show of paintings by the Adirondack artist Susan Hoffer.

The day we were sent home to stay home. March 13, 2020. Essex County, NY

Entitled Painted Stories, the collection of 21 recent works holds together nearly perfectly as a solid body of work built around the theme of technology’s place in our daily lives, with an awareness of current events and deeply personal connections as a complex underlay. In other words, these paintings are ripe with content, living up to the show’s title, while simultaneously being subtle and intimate.

Hoffer has a lot going for her here: First, her technique is off the charts. Working in oil on cradled hardwood, she layers glazes of transparent color under heavily built-up impasto to achieve both a luminosity and an extremely active surface, a rare combination of effects. She also organizes her space, and the people and objects within it, with the confidence of an orchestra conductor, making for compositions that are particularly engaging.

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Hoffer’s paintings are portraits, but they are equally domestic interiors – think of Vermeer as a comparable example. And, like Vermeer, Hoffer uses lens-based technology extensively as a base for her creations. Don’t misunderstand – this is NOT photorealism. Rather, it is a carefully honed process that utilizes a multitude of photographs for reference, often incorporating visual effects that can come from the subject having been seen through a lens. 

The resulting pictures are bathed in a dazzling light, highly detailed, and realistically representational – but they never appear to be anything other than a painting, and they feature many beautiful passages of paint and color, more than enough to satisfy lovers of that sort of thing. Further, these luscious paintings show as much attention to mundane objects – say, a glass of beer – as to people’s faces, maybe even more in some instances, which I find intriguingly rigorous.

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So we have a painter of stories who is also a painter of floors, and fabrics, and furniture. The evocative titles, the carefully arranged scenes, and the people depicted combine to provide context and develop deeper meaning to each work, but one can also simply get lost in the lush strokes of paint.
This is why it’s so important to see these paintings in person – trust me, they just don’t translate online (worthwhile art rarely does). Instead, allowing your eyes to roam over their surfaces will amply reward the time and effort spent in going to the gallery.

That said, there’s a lot more to these elaborate compositions than sensual pleasure. What started out in 2017 as a thoughtful painter’s response to our nation’s particular and peculiar political situation, evolved in 2020 into a meditation on the effects of the pandemic, and the direct or indirect way the situation was enmeshed with our dependence on electronic devices.

Watching the healthcare debate:
No pre-existing conditions allowed

Thus, in all but five of the works presented here, the subjects are absorbed with looking at a screen, or, if not directly looking, they also aren’t looking out at the viewer, and a screen or other device is present. (In the show’s only self-portrait, Hoffer is shown in her studio listening to a podcast while she stares off into space.) One is made to ask: What does this say about our time and its preoccupations? In the effort to stay informed and connected, are we losing more than we’re gaining? Alternately, in the handful of paintings where we are directly confronted by the subject, we are forced to have quite other kinds of thoughts, about that person, their circumstances, and what all of that may mean to us personally. Either way, it’s quite a powerful experience.

Painted Stories: new work by Susan Hoffer will remain on view at the Courthouse Gallery through February 19. The gallery is currently open by appointment only, preferably with 24 hours’ notice. Call 518-323-5499, ​or ​email laura@lakegeorgearts.org to schedule your visit.

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