In "Urban Abstraction," the current exhibition at Clough-Hanson Gallery at Rhodes College, Susan Maakestad's reflections on the urban experience merge deep feelings for the earth with an existential edge. The curving roadways, sharply angled topographies, and quickly narrowing perspectives thrust our point of view beyond the cityscape toward open sea and sky. In eight small watercolors and 11 mid-sized oils on canvas, Maakestad looks for a clear space where she distills her ideas and aesthetics into a lean and evocative shorthand of the world.
Parking Space #3 works on you long after you pull out of the burnt-sienna parking lot backdropped by acrid yellow mounds of earth and pale gray sky. This spare, unsettling image stands as a sort of archaeological icon. The lot is barren. The landscape is desolate. A thin layer of sooty gray tinged with green hugs the earth. At the center of this post-apocalyptic world are the remains of "Parking Space #3," a shape subliminally burned into the minds of billions of shoppers who have searched thousands of times for that one last empty parking space.
In Crosswalk #2, pollution and unshielded night lights have turned the pavement red and the sky a dusty pink. Parking Lot could be the space adjacent to Crosswalk #2. In this work, Maakestad deepens the red, scumbles the lines of the parking spaces, and exaggerates their inclines. Their blurred, blood-red surfaces bring to mind the foment of the city above the earth as well as the molten rocks and tectonic plates that push into one another and heave to the surface of the canvas from far beneath. The curved and sharply angled skyline above the lot of Parking Lot creates the impression that we are not only seeing into Earth's core but also looking at the planet's edge from a great height.
In Speed Bump, a thin surfboard-shaped slice of roadway appears to glide across the canvas above a black color field. With its speed bump that looks like a black-and-white striped ribbon and the unblemished blue sea and sky across the top of the painting, this surreal, ironic work carries an existential punch that feels more real than the veneers of civilization and its designated parking spaces. "Speed bump, indeed," the artist seems to be saying, as her levitating highway glides across space and time above the abyss.
There are no dirty whites, no chipped surfaces, no hard edges in Maakestad's vision of Concrete. The sidewalk is golden brown, and the parking lot to its left looks like a fine woolen rug tinted with umber, burnt sienna, yellow-ochre, and touches of crimson and blue. A soft-gray turnaround at the top of the parking lot silhouettes the head and shoulders of a viewer. Maakestad's shapes and textures and the last slip of light across the horizon invite us not just to look but to lie down in the soft earth at dusk.
In "Urban Abstraction" we never lose sight of the earth's edge, its seething center, the abyss surrounding it, and the beauty that permeates it. With a complex vision that lies somewhere between that of Jean-Paul Sartre and William Blake, Maakestad distills reality at the edge of the void.