Although group exhibitions are not uncommon, two artists ‘speaking’ to one another’s work in the same exhibition is a bit more unusual, especially when one of them (Rick Burns) is no longer alive. This is what the Peter Buckland Gallery has organized in “Suzanne Hill: Conversations with Rick Burns“, the idea for which came from Buckland’s desire to draw public attention back to Burns’ sculpture. The conversation is, surprisingly, decidedly two- way. Suzanne Hill, best known for her figurative work, has been influenced by Burns’ sustained reflections on the body in space, the body absent and the body engaged. Despite their different media, and in fact perhaps because of them, this exhibition is like being present for an intimate conversation between good friends who are confident enough in their friendship to disagree, debate, and sit in comfortable silence for long periods of time. The intimacy of the conversation is not exclusionary. On the contrary, the viewer is pulled in to the warmth and intensity of the conversation as a welcome guest.

The exhibition is comprised of a series of Burns’ sculptures and Hill’s responses to those works. For the most part, works are ‘paired’ in conversation with each other, with Hill’s contributions to the conversation ranging from painting on canvas, Plexiglas and board to cloth and mixed media creations. Burns’ sculptures are raw and powerful. He uses granite, welded and galvanized steel, with stunning simplicity. Link for example, poses two black steel chairs on their sides, joined together with 6 feet or so of chain link welded to the bottoms of their legs. The chairs obviously can’t sit upright and so have lost their ability to function as ‘normally’. But, released from the ‘normal’ through the chains, what else can they become? It is this paradoxical possibility of freedom and liberation, release and reconstitution, along with vulnerability and fragility that inscribes itself in Burns’ works as a whole.

Hill’s response to Link, entitled Unchained, is a series of 4 mixed media cushions, approximately 38 x 38 cm. They hang on the wall above and behind the chairs and present a striking contrast to the starkness of Burns’ work. The abstract images on cushions resonate with the links of the chains, but Hill has picked up on the possibility for release offered in Link through her un-welding of the chains and her choice of a silk like sheen for the cushions. Her respect for Burns is evident in Hill’s response, which focuses on strength and creative possibility of the chained chairs, released from normalcy.

Although not directly in conversation, two other works in the exhibition are especially powerful and capture the bond of friendship that underlies this conversation. Mute by Burns is a welded steel table, approximately 3 feet by 1.5 feet and about 3 feet high. The table is missing two legs and is stable only because it is positioned against the wall, which acts as its support. The missing legs may constitute a limitation, but they may also illustrate what is at the core of this exhibition—a friendship that incorporates mutual reliance and respect. We are all vulnerable in relationships of such depth, leaning, by times, against the wall of support offered by them.

Hill herself identifies limitation, real or imagined, as the key unifying element in the exhibition, and the themes she explores around this idea are beautifully nuanced. Two works by Hill, Limited 1 and 2 are large (101,6 x 101,6 cm) mixed media on canvas paintings. The figures, executed in muted skin and brown tones, are folded in on themselves, and through them the viewer is invited to explore the pain of limitation, longing and grieving. If Burns could in turn express his response to this work he would surely be awed by the intensity and clarity with which Hill has engaged in the conversation in this exhibition. And, he would say “I miss you too”. 

Buckland Gallery 
November 9—28, 2012