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Art of Darkness

Painter Susan Crile takes on the oil-field infernos of Kuwait

Crile knows that beauty can expand our consciousness by presenting difficult subjects in exquisite formats. Her dangerous use of beauty makes beauty sensual and exciting, rather than merely comforting. This is intuitive painting, with full knowledge of the possibilities inherent in paint. Accordingly, Crile provides substantial pigment under rich glaze, as well as varied brushwork executed in paint thinned down to the consistency of ink or loosely applied in staccato-like strokes. Crile's glowing orbs owe something to Mark Rothko's presentation of ambivalent light, both dark and glowing, muted and intense, as well as his contradictory treatment of space, both airy and constraining. Similarly, Crile often places her enigmatic shapes in an ambient fluid that at first appears penetrable but on closer examination is restricting, even claustrophobic.

Part of what makes Crile's series so compelling is the severity of the landscape itself. The desert is a place, in both mythology and reality, that fully tests the heart, the soul and the spirit. The great saints and hermits found solace in the desert. And yet, if they believed that the desert is "where God is and man is not," they also believed that the desert is where the Devil and the gods of the underworld reside. The desert has always provided rich material for literature and the visual arts, from the Bible to science-fiction films, because it epitomizes the extremes of the human condition, the fragility of human existence. Crile's paintings bear witness to a world that cannot be saved, its air darkened and made noxious, a land where natural resources have been poisoned and where acts of violence portray cultures gone berserk. The landscape has become a laboratory in which scientists and the military experiment with the powers of the universe -- chemical, biological and nuclear -- leading to dangerous creations impossible to control. While Crile's paintings and drawings of the Kuwaiti disaster point a finger directly at military abuse of the environment, their seductive, terrible beauty also engages people who might otherwise look away. They aim to interpret unsettling truths, even sound an alarm. The beauty of Crile's endeavors, then, stems from a courageous affirmation of life that subversively brings us face to face with our besieged world.

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