Vivian Suter’s paintings are created in Panajachel, a small village on the shores of lake Atitlán in Guatemala, where she arrived during her youthful wanderings in search of pyramids. Created in the humidity, heat and sonority of the jungle, her works stand in stark contrast with the museum spaces that welcome and embrace them. The result of their placement in these spaces, white and neutral or emotional, emphasizes architecture’s humanity— that is, the artifice of constructions.
Her canvases seek exemption from all criticism. They refuse to be explained through other signs that aren’t contained within themselves—and the artist rejects this exercise, too. The answer to timely, concrete questions on her work is frequently eloquent silence—deliberate, revealing, beautiful. Criticism strives to judge and explain a particular creation, but in Suter’s case poetic evocation—one that puts her power on display—is more fitting. Instead of explaining a great fire, perhaps it’s more appropriate to light a stifling bonfire: a simultaneous intoxication and purge. Or in any case, it may be best to describe the conditions in which Vivian paints, as a kind of picture card or moving image.
Let’s archetypically imagine dawn beginning to break while her dogs bark with a rooster syndrome. Vivian sips her cup of coffee and sharpens her gaze. She leaves her quarters, crosses a small courtyard and makes her way to the studio through a path that wanders through the ancient coffee plantations. She carries a small bucket with the fish glue preparation she uses repeatedly for working on her paintings. Fish glue stinks—it reeks of death, but it’s just a matter of getting used to it, and the rest is history. On the path leading from her house to her studio, a useless door appears, built out of wood sticks. She could walk around the door on either side, for the space’s vastness would easily allow her to avoid it and continue on her way.
For Vivian, however, opening and going through it is the real beginning of pictorial activity: the alchemy commences as soon as she crosses the threshold. Her dogs run ahead. Vivian has an unprimed canvas laid out on a stretcher. The studio’s floor is covered with dozens of paint jars and dead leaves. It’s hot out. Bonzo, her dog, flops down on the floor and watches her paint. Vivian always works in silence¬—or better yet, always accompanied by no other music than the leaves of the trees swaying in the wind. Her body’s cadence is ineffable, and her works transmit the calm with which she works. On other occasions, Vivian paints outside her studio, in the open air, and many other times she leaves her canvases outdoors to allow for the elements’ actions to have an impact on them, to affect them. At the height of her pleasure for decadence, Vivian buries the painted canvases or covers them in branches and mud, only to dig them up later and rejoice in the toil of others.
The peculiarity and singularity of her work, created from the tropical unknown, contributes to its misguided exotization. Paradoxically, however, it’s quite true that in her paintings—as in the poem by Reyes—carnations spring from lapels, and a discarded broom raises roots through its shaft and flowers through its bristles. It seems that Suter’s paintings are infinite iterations of a same painting, a matrix of sorts meant to gravitate around variations on a single theme. Although each one offers a certain partial newness, what is surprising is their perseverance in producing combinations and deformations of previous experiences: invariability within variability. Vivian paints for her own ataraxy, and if there’s a desire that endures in her work, it’s that they serve to foster equal pleasure in those who look at them, somewhat similar to the serenity of flowers and the rabid fury that hurricanes revel in.