Stillness and Spirit Artist Statement

by Susan Toplikar

Painting is the world’s oldest conjuring act, colored dirt smeared on a flat surface to create an illusion. We may know it’s not real, but we still enjoy seeing how the magic is done.  –Michael Kimmelman

In 1996 I traveled to France's Dordogne Valley to view some of the oldest paintings in existence.  Images of horses spirited across the walls and ceilings of the prehistoric caves provided an ancestral link across thousands of years to the painted horses I was working on in my studio.  The horse is a metaphor for painting itself:  once an important, useful part of everyone’s life and now primarily an object of beauty or status owned by a few. The six paintings form one complete body of work. The repetition of the general image leaves the viewer to experience the subtle variations within and between each of the paintings. The compositions of the six remain nearly identical while the color, motion and atmosphere slightly shift.  The painted sticks, stitched to the canvas or frame, reference the horse’s anatomy or the role of the horse in our collective history. The actuality of these sticks contrasts with the painted illusion of the image on the surface of the linen.  Ceramic tiles seen at the Palais des Papes in Avignon inspired the harlequin pattern of the frames.  A love of quilts and game boards also undoubtedly influenced the design as well. The title of the first painting in the series, Ol' Paint, references a common name for a beloved old workhorse in the many cowboy movies I watched as a child, as well as the painted ponies of Native Americans.  It is also a word play on the media used: oil paint.