The Misery of Your Absent Song
Susan Kraut: In Rooms at Addington Gallery, Chicago
Susan Kraut is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the premier art schools in the United States. Her current exhibit at the Addington Gallery, in Chicago’s historic River North district, runs until the end of October.
At their most basic, these paintings could be interpreted as reflections on the relationship between our outer and inner reality. All of our dealings with aspects of the outer world, perhaps, result in attempts to attain to an equanimity or calmness about what we experience or in action to resolve situations into the less painfully provocative. Thus the order, cleanliness and the furniture geared to maximize comfort and acceptance represent the basic (inner) structures with which we receive information about that which is outside of us. The paintings could, therefore, be visual allegories about the integration of the outside world into our inner reality.
The outside clearly intrudes on the inside often in these paintings, with the same kind of atmospheric foreboding that was first displayed by Giorgione in his Tempest. One implication might be that we have an inherent striving for comfort which controls our cognitive/emotional functions and our actions are guided to this end. There are, however, paintings in the series in which the outer frenzy overwhelms the tranquility of the room. Complicating this simple model further, moreover, is that the integration of the outside into the inside can be construed as being initiated through an illusory process – we sometimes see outer-world patterns reflected from table tops in Kraut’s work, cluing us into the awareness that, basically, everything is reflection.
In one of Kraut’s few paintings with a human figure, this interpretation of an outer/inner relationship might gain greater substance as we see a man absorbed in his newspaper with his window wide open to the world. The outside has intruded into his peaceful sanctuary mirrored in the fact that he sits in his comfy chair absorbing it all, half a glass of water nearby representing, perhaps, the only ‘reality’ as presented by Schopenhauer – that of our bodily needs, or, perhaps, more optimistically, our need for inner purification and fulfilment.
Another interpretation could be that the individual room in these paintings becomes the relative permanence against which biological change can be perceived, felt and mourned. This interpretation resonated with me deeply as I recently returned to Chicago, after many years away, and I live in a house where I had interacted with many loved ones who have departed. These rooms in this house may remain for the next 100 years, far after I have departed, and the current emptiness of them reminds me keenly of my sense of loss as well as of how fleeting my own life has been and will be. Kraut’s paintings, for me, represent the same sense of loss so beautifully expressed by the Polish poet Jan Kochanowski (1530 – 1584) when he wrote of his dead, infant daughter: “This house grows empty now you’ve gone…and there is not one among the many who remain with me who can replace your vanished soul, or free us from the misery of your absent song…” (Translation by Jerzy Peterkiewicz and Burns Singer).
I think this interpretation holds in that many of the interior scenes in these paintings show places that have been recently vacated, papers lying around, uneaten fruit on tables near half-drunk glasses of water…These images could represent loss or the ephemeral – how we flit about these spaces which will exist after we are gone and how these more permanent spaces magnify and lengthen our grief.
Another focus of this artist is windows, which literally frame the apparently permanent in the outside world but also reveal the permanent as that which changes appearance as lighting and other conditions change, thus revealing that the permanent is merely a concept deduced from reflection (and is, therefore, a reflection of a reflection).