Shimmery Brushstrokes, Sun-Drenched California Scenes
LOS ANGELES painter Susan Clover is a mother and wife and an artist who is quite comfortable telling you that she relishes the simple pleasures of family, friends, and quiet moments in the sun. Clover is a serious and respected realist painter who began her art career nearly three decades ago when a scholarship took her to study at the prestigious Center for Creative Studies in Baltimore.Clover now lives and works in Los Angeles where, over the last 10 years, her name has become synonymous with lush, sun-drenched water scenes filled with attractive young people: a female jumping through crystalline water, a couple playing on a river raft, gorgeous teens in aquamarine southern California pools. Her style combines the shimmery, visible brush strokes of Impressionism with the slice-of-life exactitude we find in photography. Unlike most photo realists who hide texture and pride themselves in faultless surfaces that ape the smooth sheen of a snapshot, Clover's paint is thick and textured. Rocks are built from grainy energetic daubs of gray and brown, water and light from white streaks that look like they were mixed right on the canvas and applied by hand rather than brush. The amazing part is that Clover has such a command of her pigment that from the optimal viewing distance, all her surfaces congeal into the lustrous look of a mirror image. People who prefer their art with more bite than beauty raise a brow or two and lament that Clover has fashioned herself into a comfortable chronicler, a recorder of the languid, leisurely, and ultimately banal middle-class good life. To this Clover responds amicably, reminding this interviewer that there is nothing wrong with beauty and that those who look closely enough will detect in the work her real concerns - the human form and the play of light. "The scenes themselves are more like vehicles," she s ays. If anything, her subjects turn out to be more homegrown than slick. The beautiful young sun worshippers in her paintings are not professional models, but the artist's family. "My art is sort of an autobiography because I've always used my kids and events from my life as content. When my children were younger, I would cajole them into helping me stage these moody fantasy paintings. I'd paint my daughter holding candles under moonlight. I also did a series of my family at carnivals because the movements an d textures and colors of that setting appealed to me." Clover doesn't paint straight from life in the strict sense. "I think it is much more interesting to add the element of invention and creative license, instead of just copying. Sometimes I will see my children in the pool, ... with the sun radiating off of their wet skin... . Something will catch my eye and my imagination and I will take a ton of snapshots. Later, I use these individual photos to create my own group scenes. The eventual painting is not strictly observation, but a composite invention," sa ys Clover. If this sounds a little paint-by-number formulaic, forget it. Clover is a serious student of anatomy and says that when she "gets stuck" she makes copious detailed drawings of skeleton and musculature to understand how the body moves in space. This exercise loosens her head and her hand and she can then find the painting and the mystery that exists in the commonplace. What does she do when she's not teaching art or making her shimmery slices of the fun in the sun? "Well, we all make art in my family. My daughter's a painter, my husband is an art director. So for fun, we do something really [with a chuckle] out of the ordinary ... we grab some watercolors and some brushes and we head for the beach to paint the last bits of sunset."