Susan English and Erin O’Brien Celebrate the Power and Pleasures of Color at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts

By Benjamin Genocchio 

Susan English, Light to Light

Through December 3

Erin O’Brien, These Days

Through December 3

Intimacy is understood to arise from a feeling or a connection with a place or person, sometimes both at the same time. To convey that feeling through art is the subject of two concurrent, complementary exhibitions at Kathryn Markel Gallery in New York. 

Susan English’s third solo exhibition with the gallery is called “Light to Light”, the title from a passage in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets describing the stillness of the sky. Not just any sky, but the horizon line, what Elliot described ever so poetically as “the still point of the turning world.” Light variances between land, sea or sky inspire English, the horizon as a still point.

What English is really searching for in nature and looking to replicate in painting is that brief moment of stillness experienced when looking at a horizon, the air still, and with nothing in the sky. It is a kind of meditative moment, one English has sought out, or cultivated by spending time in Maine, the Hudson Highlands, and in nature. Her works can best be described as records of encounters with light.

“My paintings are an answer to my own light experience,” English says in a catalog accompanying the show. “The noticing and awareness of subtle and not-so-subtle light shifts in the landscape and built environment and the way natural light manifests in my studio are a primary content of my work-creating light from light.” It is this deep connection with a moment in time, a transient experience, that invites intimacy here.

Left: Susan English, Light to Light, 2022. Tinted polymer on Dibond panel mounted on wood frame, 59 x 48 in.  Right: Susan English, Lieutenant's Island, 2022. Tinted polymer on Dibond panel, 65 x 54 in.

Susan English, Through the Middle, 2022. Tinted polymer on Dibond panel, 26 x 70 in.

It is also what guides her process, the artist pouring tinted paint in extremely thin layers over panel or paper, and then tilting the support so that the tinted pigment moves about and settles in place. The artist then waits 24 hours to learn how the paint has settled along with the end color and design. She repeats the process, building layers of paint to get the final surface effect that she is looking for. 

Patience and meditation are at the core of her painting practice, and the paintings speak for themselves — dream-like, metaphysical landscapes in which the eye wanders, gently, in search of a resting point, and yet never to arrive. Nonetheless, her complete compositions are so calm, sensual, and perfectly joyful that you can’t help but stare and bliss out on their leisurely beauty as visibility turns to invisibility. 

Nearby a solo exhibition of new paintings by Erin O’Brien plays with this same dichotomy of presence and absence, but more on a formal level. She is cycling through the dualities of figure and ground, figuration and abstraction as human bodies seem to appear and all of a sudden disappear in her paintings. Her color scheme is more varied as is her overall paint application with areas of exposed linen contrasted with smooth or watery paint.

Intuition guides both artists as they work. O’Brien’s process is “improvisational,” she says. “I don't select a color palette ahead of time but instead start with one paint color and the color of the linen, choosing subsequent colors in turn as the painting develops. The exposed linen functions as both support and actor, a neutral field or absence that may become an active shape or presence the longer one looks.” 

Left: Erin O'Brien, For Now, 2022. Acrylic on linen, 25 x 21 in.  Right: Erin O'Brien, Translator, 2022. Acrylic on linen, 25 x 21 in.

Left: Erin O'Brien, These Days, 2022. Acrylic on linen, 25 x 21 in.  Right: Erin O'Brien, Enough, 2022. Acrylic on linen, 36 x 30 in.

Shapes are often what we notice first in her work, geometric yet biomorphic at the same time — this contradiction, a visual conundrum invites a feeling, a connection to the active shape or presence we can frequently discern in the pictures. We are once again confronted with a sense of instability, in the midst of what seems like stability, which is the hallmark of the best abstract art. The longer one looks at this work the more there is to see. 

The illusionistic quality of space in the paintings of O’Brien and English recommends them to anyone interested in compelling imagery. These paintings scream quietly, joyfully, commanding us to indulge in their shimmering presence, much as the flames in a warm burning fire. 

Kathryn Markel Fine Arts


529 West 20th, Suite 6W

New York, NY 10011

Phone: 212.366.5368


Tuesday – Friday: 10am – 6pm and by appointment

Saturday: 11am – 6pm and by appointment


2418 Montauk Hwy
Bridgehampton, NY 11932

Phone: 917.653.4861

Friday – Sunday: 11ish – 5ish and by appointment 

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