RARE Gallery is pleased to present a series of new large-format paintings by Suzanne Unrein, a New York-based artist who uses the inspiration provided by Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo masterpieces as a starting point for addressing contemporary issues in painting – the possibilities of abstraction and the ability within that sphere to create a compelling visual impact through the exploration of composition, movement, and color. While finding her motivation in the imagery of Old Masters such as Rubens, Poussin, Tiepolo, and Raphael, Unrein approaches her craft not as a narrator or story teller, but as an artist interested in abstracting the formal language of the distant past to expand the language of contemporary painting.
As an avid dog owner, Unrein began to notice over the last several years the abundance of dogs in Old Master paintings. She found them present not only in typical hunting scenes, but also in religious paintings such as Rubens’ Flagellation of Christ (1607) and Tiepolo’s The Finding of Moses (ca. early 1730s). While the presence of these dogs intimates faithfulness, in a number of 16th through 18th century paintings the animals seem strangely out of place to the contemporary eye, such as in the Rubens’ painting where the dog in the lower right-hand corner appears to be smiling while Jesus is being whipped. Intrigued by the “stand alone” or independent qualities a number of these dogs embody and the interesting anatomical possibilities they presented, Unrein began to extract them from various Old Master paintings and abstract them and make them a focal point of her own work.
While researching Rubens’ work, Unrein discovered that many of the dogs in his paintings
were executed by Frans Snyders, a Flemish Baroque painter who became famous in his own right for spirited hunting scenes depicting hounds giving chase or doing battle with wild animals (e.g., Wild Boar Hunt, 1625-30). In Snyders’ hands, hounds became highly distorted, stretched to the limit, and nearly abstracted as forms hurtling through space, providing further inspiration to Unrein in her exploration of form, composition, and color. She came to think of the hounds as a dysfunctional Greek chorus – commenting on the actions of human figures without any apparent connection to them or the offering up of much in the way of explanation.
In addition to working in an abstract mode, Unrein further erases the origins of her forms by mixing together figures by different artists and from paintings of different eras. This approach places her work squarely in the realm of contemporary painting by imparting to it an open-ended sensibility that allows viewers multiple points of entry and a freedom to interpret unhampered by preconceptions.
Unrein was born in Sacramento, CA, and currently lives and works in New York City. She was the recipient of a Fellowship from the Jentel Artist Residency Program (2009) and a Project Studio Recipient at PS 122 (2007-09). She received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Florida in Gainesville.