Artist looks beyond still life

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A thick black line shaped like a drinking glass stands next to a thick black line shaped like a piece of fruit.

For all intents and textbooks, this is a still life.

But the thing you must ask yourself when looking at a painting, especially a simple still life like this one -- does it say more than "container and fruit"?

"In a way, this is fruit sitting next to a container, but it picks up a kind of narrative with the way it is positioned on the page," said artist Susan Hambleton of her work. "It's a still life, but there's a psychological bend to it.

"There is an undercurrent -- a meditative quality. ... I love the way it just sits there. There's an absurdity to it, and a kind of melancholy."

Hambleton reaches across the table and opens a book of art by Philip Guston. Guston was a major figure in abstract expressionism for decades before suddenly shifting into cartoonish figurative paintings. The change and the paintings he produced horrified the critics.

She points to a painting of a black-lined brick wall against a white background. Pieces of red paint slip through the bricks.

It's simple, but compelling and possesses what she calls "rumbling" -- the thing she is trying for in her own work.

Hambleton has been coming to the Steamboat area for seven years to make monoprints at Riverhouse Editions in Clark.

The work she makes there is a kind of jagged lined minimalism -- simple shapes, against simple backgrounds.

Hambleton came to painting late in life. She tried it at an early age but became discouraged.

"I didn't know how to control it," she said.

Instead, she pursued a bachelor's degree in history and a master's in social work.

After graduate school, she went to India to visit a college friend where she met a man and married. She stayed in India for 10 more years until his death.

"I say that I stubbed my toe in India," Hambleton said. "I'm always grateful for those years. India had an extraordinary pulse when I lived there. It was so alive.

"And where I lived in Delhi, it was so sensuous."

During her life in Asia, she absorbed the aesthetic of the place and started "flirting" again with painting.

She sold her first piece in India for $10.

After her husband's death, she returned to the United States and decided to try art school.

"I'll never forget that first semester," Hambleton said. "I was so self-conscious."

At a critique, her teacher told her that she needed to make a whole batch of bad paintings in order to get better. "That was probably why I didn't do well when I was young. I was so critical of what I was doing. To paint well, you have to let yourself make mistakes. You have to let (the art) breathe."

Hambleton graduated with a Bachelor's of Fine Art at 41 and received her master's at 43.

"I think (being older) was to my advantage. I had more life experience, and that's what makes art have a heartbeat."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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