Photo Credit: Mona Caissy

Susan Pepler is a Montreal-based artist renowned for producing resonant paintings with unique spatial presence and visual panache. Widely collected both nationally and internationally, her works elude easy classification, their aesthetic allure and sensory breadth captivating novice, connoisseur and collector alike. Florals, Greens, Autos, Landscapes, Fruits and Stills, the artist’s disparate series eloquently engage both spectator and space. With a multi-faceted pictorial repertoire that ranges from flora to genre, Pepler’s paintings lend themselves to diverse interiors with facility, complementing and completing public and domestic places with extraordinary élan.

A seasoned artist who has exhibited extensively both in Canada and the United States, Pepler’s formal practice, and finely honed eye, are informed by her years of experience as a storyboard illustrator. This legacy is most evident in her keen observational skills, her ability to swiftly distill the essence of her subject, and the fusion of meticulous marks and bold brushwork that characterizes the artist’s stylistic expression. Her canvases are executed in-situ, with rare revision, thus capturing the spirit of her ‘sitters’ with remarkable perceptual precision. This empathic interaction between artist and subject reflexively finds echo in a deeply-felt viewing experience. And it is this most of all, along with the artist’s ability to convey the exuberant fullness of each scenic aura, which affords Pepler’s art its uniquely sensorial dimension.

Equally smitten by nature’s wild beauty and the mesmerizing details of everyday objects, Pepler’s oeuvre encompasses the organic and the man-made. Among her first canvases to garner both public and media attention were the artist’s now well-known renditions of half-century old cars. These prize-winning, impressively executed images of 1950s American-built cars in Cuba have a striking, iconic presence. Their ability to capture, and keep, our gaze is effected not only by the paintings’ superbly articulated pictorial details, compositional vigor and painterly bravura, but also through their suggestive representation of the historical human portrait. Imbued with an engaging presence, they compel our attention through the riveting mystique of their unknown histories.

Certainly it is Pepler’s ability to instill her images with a spirited ‘persona’, a pulse, is what serves to fuse her diverse bodies of work. Her lushly painted, near-fragrant floral ‘still lives’ seem to virtually hum with life. Their appeal is universal. But they are also particularly loved for striking a personal, poignant chord in their resemblance to a familiar someone, either in character or in posture (Like a Ballerina, Daisy Daisy, Georges & Louise), or for their nostalgic allusion to an age, or event, gone by (Days of Wine & Roses, Manet Yellow Rose).

With similar affective sway, the artist’s atmospheric landscapes seem able to almost whisk the viewer away to places once known or imagined. Despite the differences in their scale, they each appear infinitely expansive, almost a-temporal, belying their reference to a particular place seen at a specific moment in time. It is here, where the unfettered forces of the natural world find elegant imagistic expression, that Pepler’s remarkably rigorous pictorial approach is most evident. Notwithstanding the dynamic sense of nature that is conveyed, landscapes such as Mexican Beach Palms or Three Trees serve to illustrate the harmonious formal architectonics that are a hallmark of Pepler’s production.

As for the artist’s near-tactile representations of antique teacups, fruit, furnishings and precious and plain objects, they are nostalgia incarnate, gripping our vision through the virtuoso interpretation of their physical details, and kindling dormant memories through laden allusions to real human experiences. Placed in certain settings, Pepler’s Stills visually echo and enhance the three-dimensional elements around them, at once blending in and standing out from the environments they inhabit.

Ultimately, and beyond its formal significance, it is the fact that Pepler’s art stirs our senses which gives it relevance and renders it sought-after. Finding its home in numerous corporate and private collections world wide, Pepler’s work eloquently celebrates space in the same authentic spirit as it satisfies a universal desire for possessing objects of unique aesthetic and personal import.

Karen Antaki
Curator and Art Historian