My current work functions as a memorial to the printed page. Previously a landscape painter, I have of late directed my attention toward the terrain of published works such as books and magazines. Books, magazines, and individual pages are physical objects that hold value. In absorbing these resources, we are often transported to new intellectual worlds. But books are also frequently prized for reasons extending beyond their scholarly content. Bibliophiles love books for their materiality: weathered pages, marginalia, accumulations of markings that indicate a history of use.
I approach paintings, drawings, and sculptures as a means of discussing my relationship to printed material – the degree to which I connect intimately with reproductions of artists’ works; the contradictory internal delight I feel when I accidentally drop an issue of Artforum in the bathtub and, upon its drying, discover the flat surface transformed into a dimensional planar structure reminiscent of fractal geometry.
Printed pages are momentary. They are not devised to endure for great lengths of time. They are immensely vulnerable to light, fire, and water. One of paper’s inherent characteristics is its thin fragility. It is this susceptibility that interests me and enhances the special nature of the subject matter when converted to material forms that are meant to endure such as oil paint, ceramic, or cement.
One particular area of investigation in my recent work is the contemporary fashion magazine. I find these specific publications fascinating. Magazines are distinctive in our culture, occupying a middle ground between the longevity of a published book and the evanescent nature of social media. Magazines focused on culture allow for a more in-depth look into the fast-paced changeability of trends. Yet, historically artworks have been constructed with a view toward permanence, holding back the dread of obsolescence with hopes that one’s work will live on. It is the friction between these two opposing forces that propels my work.
"Text can defend, support, explain, justify, enhance or damn an artwork. For the artist, particularly in an academic environment, it can go hand in hand or be the bane of one’s existence. Work must be done in the form of traditional research alongside the development of one’s studio practice. That’s why there’s something deviously enjoyable about seeing Suzie Dittenber’s paintings of books and magazines. Language, which usually acts on visual art is now being acted upon. These texts exist as objects in space and are subject to the same corporeal effects of light and shadow, moisture and dryness, as any other thing out there in the world. In fact no lettering appears in any of the paintings. Like Vincent van Gogh’s Still with Bible (1885) these pages are robbed of their words. Lines of text become rectangular blocks.
These paintings are the work of someone who clearly loves books though. Each picture marks a specific experience of time well spent reading. They can be seen as visual representations of the relationship one can have with a piece of writing. Language does ultimately appear in Dittenber’s work, in the titles. Rather than a poetic name assigned to the image, it is a caption telling us what is going on.
Suzie Dittenber’s titles read like short stories. While didactic, they feel more like passages from a book than cold descriptions. Quickly read, “Washington Road and Ocean Boulevard, Rye, New Hampshire with Dillard, Annie. Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters. New York: Harper, 2013,” at first sounds like a road trip to New Hampshire with a friend named Annie. And indeed it is. Here are moments in special places with friends. After all, it’s common for people to think of favorite books as old friends. It feels like an enviable life, reading on the beach or soaking in the bath. But then it ends like a citation, that other thing you have to do as a scholar. How does it go? The city of publication, colon, publisher and year? What an odd syntax.
With the exception of a larger than life landscape, where we look up from a book to see a wave curl against the shore like a page turning, Dittenber’s paintings in the exhibition are roughly the size of printed matter themselves. And as lovingly as one pages through a favorite publication, we can see the attention the artist has paid to each brushstroke."
Erik Wenzel, 2015