Interview: Don Suggs

October 10, 2015


Don Suggs is often called an “artist’s artist.” For more than 45 years, he has been a popular fixture in the Los Angeles art scene–as a teacher at UCLA, an editor, and a prolific and exhibited artist engaged in a wide array of forms and mediums. Our upcoming October 11th auction features a striking example of Suggs’s art: Two Fridas (from Matrimony Series) (2) (2006), Lot 169, a work that consists of paired tondos–a circular canvas format that dates to the Renaissance. Los Angeles Modern Auctions recently spoke with Suggs about his process.

Lot 169 Don Suggs Two Fridas (from Matrimony Series) (2) 2006

Lot 169, Don Suggs, Two Fridas (from Matrimony Series) (2), 2006, with the artist
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

Los Angeles Modern Auctions: In 2007, the Otis College of Art & Design presented a survey exhibition of your work–One Man Group Show–a nod to the fact that there are distinct periods in your career, when you worked in different styles and mediums. Do you feel there is one consistent thread–in terms of theme or process–that connects your work?

Don Suggs: The art historian and critic Marlena Donohue coined a term for my body of work that got right to the point. She wrote that my art stems from a process of “semiotic exploration.” I have never done abstraction, or any other type of work, as “art for art’s sake” alone. For me art making has always been about the analysis of visual form, how we perceive a picture or any seen thing, its formal “building blocks” and how they communicate meaning and feeling. It all starts with formal analysis and perceptual psychological interpretation–with visual language.

LAMA: Is there a particular reason you so often embrace the tondo–and other circular formats–in your work?

DS: I started painting concentric circles just before I entered grad school in 1969. The reasons are complicated, but it goes back to my earliest childhood remembrance of what I would later understand as “aesthetic arrest.” I saw a “religious” painting in which there was a vividly colored circular overlay on top of a narrative scene, and the clash of the two visual formulas kind of blew me away. In grad school I started a concentrated analysis of basic forms and how depicted images were so often made up of them if you looked beneath the surface. The most elemental form is the circle.

LAMA: Please describe the conceptual framework for the Patrimony/Matrimony series, which includes Two Fridas.

Lot 169 Don Suggs Two Fridas (from Matrimony Series) (2) 2006

Lot 169, Don Suggs, Two Fridas (from Matrimony Series) (2), 2006
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

DS: This series of paintings began in 2005. After decades of applying concentric circular interpretations to all sorts of pictures, I decided to concentrate on canonical historic paintings. With the understanding that the so-called “masterpieces” of history were a nearly all-male province, I split the project into two parts. The Patrimony paintings start in 1907 with Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and go back in 80 year jumps–hitting Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, the Mona Lisa, and others–to the period just before Giotto. The Matrimony paintings–they’re not about marriage; the term is wordplay on “patrimony”–also start in 1907 with one of Hilma af Klint’s big abstractions, then go forward in 20 year jumps to include paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Joan Mitchell, and Barbara Kruger. Two Fridas is an interpretation of both Kahlo’s 1948 self-portrait with white lace and the The Love Embrace of the Universe (1949)in which Diego Rivera is depicted as a baby with a pineal eye.


Lot 169
Don Suggs
Two Fridas (from Matrimony Series) (2)
Oil on canvas in two parts
Signed and dated in black felt-tip marker verso; retains LA Louver Gallery label verso
As illustrated: 69″ x 85″
Provenance: LA Louver Gallery, Venice, California;
Private Collection, California (acquired directly from the above, July 2007)
Illustrated: Don Suggs One Man Group Show. D. Harvey, et al. 2007. 34.
Estimate: $5,000 – $7,000

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