Visual Art Source

Susan Budge
Redbud Gallery, Houston, Texas
Recommendation by Donna Tennant, November 2017


"Eye Spy Red”, 2017, ceramic


Susan Budge has worked with clay for as long as she can remember, saying that “touching clay for the first time was an epiphany.” Her work has many references to the Paleolithic “goddess” figures from prehistory that were linked to motherhood and fertility. Although Budge has practiced as a ceramic artist for more than 40 years, the birth of her son in 2003 has had a direct influence on her work since. The fierce instinct of maternal protection manifests itself in the large totemic pieces, which she refers to as guardians or sentinels. Budge has said that these guardians also represent the spirits of people she has loved who have passed away.

Budge is fascinated by the human figure. Some like “Gold Guardian” are tall and slender, while others like “Eye Spy Red” embody the curvaceous female figure and are intensely sensual. Many have a realisticly painted eye embedded in them, usually near the top in what is perceived as the “head” of the piece. In the smaller works, which she refers to as “objects of affection,” the eye is located in the center. According to Budge, she began using the eyes when she noticed that her young son was watching her constantly while she was working in the studio.

Budge has an affinity with the surrealist reliance on the subconscious in the creative act. By working spontaneously rather than rationally, her sculptures are pushed to reflect that tendency. A bulbous piece titled "B.B.'s Ghost" mimics the form of a lover who has passed away, but she did not realize that until it was completed. “When I wrapped my arms around the sculpture to pick it up, I realized that its circumference was the same as his,” she said. Its subtle coloration is the result of a five-day wood firing, during which time the fumes from the burning wood created intriguing markings and glass deposits on the piece.

Budge’s surfaces range from gleaming reds and blues to more subdued grays and golds. Displayed on brilliant red walls and pedestals, these anthropomorphic sculptures create a powerful and compelling environment.




Referencing. This is the by word of contemporary art practice, the lingua franca and justification for the exchange of ideas between artist, critical theorist and audience. A “Where’s Waldo” for the informed art viewer. Referencing is the art world equivalent of the Shriner’s secret handshake. If you can’t spot the reference then you aren’t a member of the club.

But what happens if an artist’s commitment to their work is so complete, their investment to the evolution of their craft so intuitive that their work embraces the entire history of that craft without the sly nod or the knowing elbow in the ribs? Is this referencing or is it simply what happens when an artist works hard, knows what they are doing and adds in a measure of the ineffable?

Susan Budge makes art that can somehow make a connection to a range of work that includes Paleolithic talismans, early modernism via Brancusi, Miro and Tanguy, thrift store chatchkas and the backgrounds of Hannah Barbera cartoons. These associations aren’t entirely new and yet when they usually show up in an artist’s work they more often than not come with a hefty dose of irony. However, when a really talented artist hunkers down in the studio and roams around the culture and their own psyche looking for meaning, associations magically accrue. You see the connections between south pacific totems and Yves Tanguy. You understand why they wanted Roadrunner’s cacti to look like Brancusi’s Bird.

If the word ecstasy comes from the Greek ex-stasis, to be displaced, then somehow displacement has come to be associated with a kind of exquisite disorientation. This is what I get out of Susan Budge’s work. People have been squeezing together lumps of clay for as long as people have had the free time to do anything. This may be the oldest form of art practice known to man. If you engage in this activity then you are stepping into a slipstream of unbroken human history.

When you look at Budge’s work you can see every moment and every motive of creative human endeavor. You can find sympathetic magic, idolatry, shamanism, fetishization and comedy. You can see the ways that human beings have sought out the connections between high and low art. The exquisite disorientation that you feel is the result of a kind of slingshot free association that happens when the Venus of Willindorf starts to look like Jabba the Hut. One doesn’t necessarily neutralize the other. They don’t call each other into question; they simply call to each other. This visual point and counterpoint is ultimately about faith. The belief that all of this stuff that we’ve been making for so many years actually adds up to something.

One of the popular strategies of the post modern period was the idea that by filtering high modernism through the lens of popular culture you could de-mystify the inflated heroics of a seminal moment in history. In the hands of artists like Peter Halley and Phillip Taafe, this leads to an irreverent deconstruction of grandiose modernist assumptions. In the hands of Susan Budge this same lens seems to be pointing in the opposite direction. Rather than pointing down to pick through the minutia of modernist meaning her lens opens outward to suggest that the spiritual core at the heart of modernist purity can be found in the everyday.

Her operating principle appears very similar to the automatism of early surrealist practice. Budge has said,” I work in a spontaneous manner as an attempt to allow information from my subconscious to surface.” But what are we to make of her souped up cartoon-like palette? How do you explain the presence of ceramic hard hats with totems and the suggestion of Max Ernst? The implication is that just as early modernism was co-opted by popular culture; contemporary art practice can reclaim the impulse behind early modernism by way of popular culture.

But this isn’t simply a re-examination of previous movements, instead in Budge’s case it becomes an inclusive cycling outward where possibilities expand. The overall effect of the work has a direct connection to Freud’s theory of the uncanny. When the familiar becomes unfamiliar through repression the ultimate effect is a kind of disorientation as a result of the inability to distinguish between the real and the unreal, the animate and the inanimate.

In Susan Budge’s work a profound moment of disorientation comes when all of the cues for our collective experience of the work come slamming together in totally unexpected ways. What we are left with is our lust for the object, our need to make meaning out of it and our willingness to take a leap of faith with an artist who has given us good reason to trust her. We appear to have come full circle to a totally intuitive appreciation for an object, which inexplicably moves us.

The totem is a central theme in Budge’s work. In “Blood Moon” the conventional phallus association of the totem is subverted by creating a Cousin It-like creature whose stumpy abject form has red lens shapes at about eye level. Each eye is on opposing sides of the figure, one convex and the other concave suggesting that whether viewing out or in, some distortion will Occur. The entire figure is covered in a syrupy poured glaze, which feels like either the residue of countless rituals or the effects of years of exposure to the elements. It has the appearance of a mute oracle or a thumb shaped marker of a lost civilization.

In pieces like “Muse” and “Psyche” the totem is recouped in female form. The curves and cinched waists of both figures suggest a corseted dowager simultaneously authoritative and constrained, their décolletage marked by a graceful bustier dip. Limbs are only hinted at by petal-like flippers, which curve downward in a comic muscular pose.

In “Hawthor” pubescent nipples protrude from a zigzag Teletubby figure whose little boy blue glaze would feel completely at home in an alien’s nursery.

The only orifice in “Suspense” is located vaguely where a mouth should be, but it is more reminiscent of genitalia or an “innie” belly button. The conflation of sex, voice and birth leads the viewer to reassess identity from primal urge to maternal connection.

The female form is revisited in “Orpheus”. Its arms are raised in a balletic posture, but are equally suggestive of curled horns. A metallic glaze that seems to armor the figure in a protective sheath reinforces this conflict.

“Tribute” takes the familiar form of the hard hat and through repetition defamiliarizes it into both pure form and new associations. This most male of artifacts appears oddly female in Budge’s hands either as fertile protruding bellies or as forty distended breasts, nipples and stretch marks intact. Either way the viewer is made aware of the vulnerability of the human form by focusing on a man made exoskeleton.

Much of the Twentieth century in the arts can be seen as the separation of the mind and the body, the idioplastic and the physioplastic. The assumption has been that talent was incompatible with rigorous conceptualization. And while this was a reasonable response to the craft chauvinism of the salon tradition, some part of the marginalization of art making over the last hundred years can be attributed to this condition. Talented artists frequently found themselves relegated into craft ghettos. Serious inquiry into the meaningfulness of a language was seen as privileging the object. But if art is ever going to play a more central role in the culture, artists are going to have to reacquaint themselves with the tools that have created a broader discourse historically.

Susan Budge makes a very strong case for the idea that articulation and iconography can exist on an equally high plane. The beauty and complexity of her work make it clear that these things were never mutually exclusive. Through the seduction of her talent and the breadth of her ideas Susan Budge offers a reconnection to the origins of art making. If the earliest cave paintings and fertility figures were a form of sympathetic magic Budge has filtered that vision of the artist’s role through the warped prescription of popular culture to give the world a new Venus of the Saturday morning cartoon.

Peter Drake is a New York artist who has shown internationally for twenty years.




Year after year, Lawndale Art Center’s Big Show in Houston feels like a display of mass chaos—a kind of flea-market hunt for the odd diamond (in the rough), and admittedly, that’s part of the fun. But this year was a little different. Even with 105 works by eighty-seven artists covering two floors, it feels like a cohesive show. It’s the best Big Show I’ve seen. What happened?

A few things. This year Lawndale got rid of its submission fee, notably increasing the number of submissions (to 1,389, up from 972 from the previous year). This no-fee novelty compelled more than 150 extra Houston-area artists to submit more work. But this of course meant the show’s jurors had to sift through more to whittle the show down to a little over a hundred works on view.

A quick glance at the jurors’ statement will reveal how much thought they—Apsara DiQuinzio and Tina Kukielski— put into organizing this show, as most of their statement gives us a play-by-play through each of Lawndale’s three galleries. DiQuinzio and Kukielski didn’t fall into the trap that some Big Show jurors do—and almost all of them are from out of town—which is to gravitate toward a caricature of what they think Texas art is supposed to look like. Instead they brought a strong curatorial stance, as just about every piece communicates notions of familiarity and displacement. That may sound broad, but it’s thoughtful and appropriate for Houston, a city known for its friendliness, diversity, sprawl, and schizophrenic lack of zoning. Click here to continue reading on Glasstire.



By Susie Tommaney

Not all artists are starving, but a little help never hurts when it comes time to choose between ramen noodles and paint. So when Lawndale Art Center put the kibosh on the submission fee for consideration in the annual exhibit The Big Show, artists within a 100-mile radius took notice. Stephanie Schumann Mitchell, Lawndale’s executive director, says it’s all about leveling the playing field for young, mid-career and established artists. She says Lawndale received the largest number of submissions in recent memory (1,389 pieces by 517 artists), so it’s good that the center has lined up not one but two established curators to jury this year’s show: Apsara DiQuinzio (Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and Phyllis C. Wattis Matrix Curator at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive) and Tina Kukielski, executive director of New York’s ART21. “Tina and Apsara have curated shows before. They work very, very well on shows together,” says Schumann Mitchell. “They’re both whip smart.” For those who haven’t attended before, The Big Show (which has spurred a whole other exhibit in town for those who don’t get in) offers a great way to view wall-to-wall art, follow the career progression of artists, and begin to form your own collecting taste. It also gives artists the opportunity to take a chance and experiment, without cowing to gallerists’ demands for salable art, though the results are often sublime. 

There’s an opening reception from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on July 22. Regular viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Through August 27. For information, call 713-528-5858 or visit Free.

Lawndale Art Center's The Big Show

'The Big Show'

Any artist practicing within 100 miles of Houston can enter Lawndale Art Center's popular annual open-call show. Opening a door to self-taught newbies as well as academically trained professionals, "The Big Show" is always fun to see.

It looks great this year because jurors Apsara DiQuinzio, from the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and Tina Kukielski, who directs New York's digital-media-focused Art21, noticed themes and perhaps chose the show accordingly.

Sifting through a marathon of nearly 1,400 submissions, they selected 105 works by a record 87 artists. They awarded the $3,000 top prize to a work you could easily miss amid the many large canvases: the dark and layered ink drawing "First Cause" by Katya Vassilyeva. It's one of the smallest pieces on a wall whose works all have graphic, black-and-white drama.

Elsewhere across the huge O'Quinn Gallery, it looks like a lot of Houston artists have been taking classes in Cubism and Surrealism. Some very retro stuff there.

The display in the Grace R. Cavnar Gallery spotlights figurative work that ranges from meticulous to loosely expressive and barely there. David P. Gray's "The Calder" engaged me with its luminous realism. It depicts two men sitting in a retro diner, deep in conversation, with a small Alexander Calder print inexplicably propped on their booth.

I also lingered at Rajab Sayed's "Daydreamer," which feels Andrew Wyeth-like: Its husky, plaid-shirted figure gazes at a gray landscape through the window of a white room.

Upstairs in the Horton Gallery, I was mesmerized by the dangling bodies of Daniela Antelo and Clay Zapalac's one-minute loop video "Hanging" - and quickly saw parallel tracks in the lines of the room's other works, especially the crocheted yarn strips of James Kerley's "Agility Text (Difficulty Level 5)," on the floor; William Dixon's "Wait Right There," a large photograph of a line of blue plastic chairs; and Cassie Skelly's "Stand Tall," a close-up photograph of human feet whose ring-clad toes splay out as they try to elevate a body.

But then I got enthralled with Christy Karll's "More than Enough," a three-minute video whose digitally altered imagery led me down a road in a bright, dreamy haze.

More than enough, indeed.