Lisa Cuscuna in Studio pouring paint 2016

 

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Article: Stamford Advocate March 13, 2016

The idea of literal representation holds no interest for artist Lisa Cuscuna.

When gallery patrons look at one of her surrealistic paintings and ask, “What are you trying to say?” she would prefer that viewers come up with their own interpretations.

Cuscuna has delighted in combining the real and the surreal in work like the canvas that shows an open doorway floating in the sky above a beach. (I think of that airborne, reflective monolith in “2001,” but you might see Dali or Escher.)

“I ask people to look beyond a conventional way of seeing things — try to choose another point of view and see if that works for you,” she says in her studio at Stamford’s Loft Artists Association.

The pull between control and chaos in Cuscuna’s work might be more acute than it is for other artists because she has juggled life as a successful businesswoman with her abstract art. The artist retired from her job as a producer of video installations for museums to refocus her energy.

“I did budgeting and design. I was at the top of my game, but I never saw my family,” she says of creating huge video displays for places like the twin tower skyscraper in Kuala Lumpur. That was a $2.7 million video wall project that took three years to pull together. (She used the New York Philharmonic for the music.)

“Painting is an ever-changing new career for me,” Cuscuna adds of her life now. “I am very much enthralled with the idea of the creative process and that it should be unfettered. The work should flow through the artist, taking on a spirit and youthfulness that you won’t get if you push too hard. ... Zen and art go together for me.”

Cuscuna was stilll pulling together work for a major show at the Stamford nonprofit — “The Fluid Palette,” opening March 17 — when I visited her studio. The surreal paintings began in a roundabout way for her.

“I was doing a lot of surreal photography and I took the work to a gallery that liked them, but they said, ‘These are very nice. Can you paint them?’ I said, ‘Absolutely’ without missing a beat and went right home and started to paint,” she says with a smile.

A door suddenly opened into new territory for the artist, much like the portals she has included in her work.

Cuscuna has been delving deeply into the concept of “poured painting” in recent work. Instead of using a brush, an artist working with this technique pours paint onto a canvas and builds a new work layer by layer. The process of pouring and then being forced to wait for the next step has bolstered Cuscuna’s belief in the union of art and zen and other practical aspects of life. During the required pauses to allow each layer of oil paint to dry, she is able to shift gears to her volunteer work as treasurer of the Loft Artists Association.

New York artist Paul Jenkins was the father of this style of art that played a major role in the classic late-1970s art-world drama, “An Unmarried Woman.” He created the work done by the painter Alan Bates plays in the movie.

“It’s a departure from the exact and the specific that excited my imagination,” Cuscuna says of the technique, in which part of the “control” is taken away from the artist. “There are certain things that the paint does by itself — it curdles, there are striations and textural effects you have to work with.

“This is far more challenging than looking at something and replicating it. You have to be on your toes, ready for personal adjustments. ... The painting has a life of its own.

“You also do a lot of praying,” she says, laughing.

jmeyers@hearstmediact.com;