Beth Sutherland is an American visual artist based in New York, whose primary technique is woodcut printmaking. Her multi-block prints draw a picture of a quiet suburban area, familiar to us from American literature and popular culture.
Sutherland highlights the structures of the houses: boards, glass and roof materials. She focuses on architectural forms, with people absent from the scenes. The main role in her art belongs to light-drenched details, everyday observations of manmade environments. They are largely about light, observing light and transferring these observations to print. The sun stains a part of a wooden house’s wall, the roof, reflecting off the window and hitting the stairs. The light paints the cityscape in a way that leads one’s thoughts to the Modernist idiom. Ultimately, it is a matter of abstract grid composition, with rhythmically interlocking lines leaving a space in between for colour: dark or light, cool or warm. Ultimately, the artworks could be reduced to constructivist rhythm.
But there’s more to it. In the artworks, the atmosphere creeps over the form, and it is difficult to see the picture without a story. Sutherland displays this constructed landscape as empty but not barren. The houses are inhabited and well maintained. They are not from a place such as Detroit, crippled by economic restructuring, but from a clearly viable small neighbourhood that is merely dozing at the side of a larger city. The artworks remind us of those early mornings when others have not woken up yet. You get to take a walk when all is quiet, in the low-slung morning sun with other people still asleep inside. The light hides more than it reveals. Its reflection in the windows obstructs the view inside.
Beth Sutherland creates watercolours and woodcuts. This exhibition at Gallery Halmetoja presents colour multi-block woodcuts. The multiple printing phases have produced variations in tone as subtle as in traditional Japanese woodcuts. The scenes in the prints are realistic in principle, but the sheerness of the technique and Sutherland’s talent for emphasizing light give them a touch of the surreal. They could be vistas imagined while reading, landscapes from American novels, mental images or movie sets.
And yet, there is nothing pretentious in Sutherland’s woodcuts but rather, they are so honest and perceptive that, in our time, they somehow feel more real than photography.