For most of her 40-year career, Susan Chorpenning has in one way or another been involved with light, and “with the sensual experience of looking and the perceptual experience of seeing,” as she puts it on her website. In one of her early “Light Rooms,” a temporal installation at a dinner party in Oakland, CA, viewers watched light move across the wall as it fell on painted rhomboids, offering a shimmering tableaux of shifting geometries. While she was artist in residence at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, TX, Chorpenning placed large rocks painted phosphorescent green in a field outside of town and invited viewers to visit the outdoor installation on a moonless night. “One person said it looked like the stars above had fallen down into the field,” she reports. And a public sculpture called Granite Lookout, commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Public Affairs in 2009, is composed of polished granite blocks, irregularly stacked and surmounted by acrylic light boxes.
Her latest work, though, a series called “Layers and Planes,” is less evidently about light and more about geometry, which provides a subtext for many of her projects. “I started thinking about the wall and how to use the wall with light instead of using spaces for installations,” she says. “Painters have it so great because they get to do this finite thing, and the work hangs on the wall. And so I thought, Well, ‘I’ve always envied painters. Why don’t I try?’
“I cut up many pieces of material, all sizes, painting them with surfaces that treated light in multiple ways, some absorbing it, some hyper-reflective.” Then she added shelves and empty frames, which offer a curiously nostalgic note, as if calling up ghosts from an earlier century. Shadows provide yet another dimension, an illusion of greater depth and a reminder that no art can exist without light. Chorpenning brings to this series a collagist’s sensibility—the viewer can almost sense her restlessly manipulating the various elements to arrive at the right juxtapositions. But the works still refer back to the accidental geometry and evanescent rectangles of the “Light Rooms” of four decades ago—and put her smack in the tradition of Modernist experiments pioneered by the Constructivists more than a century ago.
Top: Shelf Piece (2018), 60″ x 20″ x 9.5″