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    Making Sense of Babel
by Cathy Byrd
 
     
 
Notes from The Library
of Babel, Vol. I

1998
(detail)
 
Notes from The Library
of Babel, Vol. I

1998
(detail)
 
Notes from The Library
of Babel, Vol. I

1998
(detail)
 
Richard Sudden, "Notes from the Library of Babel," Oct. 23-Nov. 28, 1998, at Marcia Wood Gallery, 1198 North Highland Avenue, Atlanta, Ga. 30306.

How do you know when too much is never enough? Ask Atlanta artist Richard Sudden. In his solo exhibition at the Marcia Wood Gallery, the artist investigates the metaphysical and spiritual universe through paintings that seem designed to examine its elements, one by one.

Sudden, his psyche steeped in books, entertains infinite possibilities in "Notes from the Library of Babel." Years ago, the artist owned a bookstore specializing in the metaphysical and parapsychological. He developed a mental and spiritual vocabulary that dwells in ritual, magic and symbols. From there, he traveled to Tibet, Lascaux, Ephesus and the Outback, gathering a headful of cultural inscriptions and mythology that confirmed his ideas about a collective subconscious. Images bound up in Jorge Luis Borges' Labyrinth began to shape his art making.

The inscrutably beautiful Notes from the Library of Babel, Vol. 1 (1998) is a painting in oil and mixed mediums made of 64 individual six-inch-square paintings that have been brought together into one tableau, affixed with small map pins to a 52 x 52 in. wood panel. Its gridded surface is crossed with iconographic markings. In rusty red, evening blue and indigo, tarry black, silvery transparencies and gray greens, the visual compendium overflows with imagery, yet notes only one "nth" of the connective and oppositional forces that make up our universe.

Sudden paints or applies to the surface images of Asian deities, old maps, moon cycles, landscapes, botanical drawings, stars and cones. Scratched into this abstract tarot are hexagons and glyphs, crowns, stars, spears, letters and numbers, spirals and overlapping spheres. Strokes of paint and etched figures arch across squares where certain carved out images spawn themselves. Volume II repeats the exercise. Images from both tomes reappear in Sudden's larger, simpler works.

The artist often divides his 48 in. square compositions into two vertical planes. He reduces the painted surface to a skin by stroking with a sander, then lacerating it with sketch marks. Sometimes he adds a glowing coat of resin. In Genetic Satori, the effect is an unexpected sensuality. A red halo surrounds a sinuous Buddhist figure etched out on the right. That scarlet sphere overflows like a huge moon into the blackness on the left.

A Victorian meditation on death, Self Containment takes place under a tiny tar-tinged moon. Against a black field, an inverted green-edged transparent vase waits to be filled with a three-dimensional still life. Its emptiness counters the density of a broad-shouldered black vessel on the right that points into a field of funereal green.

Ruby Red Hex is about essence. A dense grid of endless hieroglyphs is the landscape that lies beneath a large, bright blue ball. Inside the hovering ball, a golden-edged chalky ellipse cradles a jewel-like red hexagon. Sudden's meditative mark-making transcends the two-dimensional reality of Notes. He extracts quiet moments of beauty from the time-spanning, symbol-throbbing chaos of our universe.


CATHY BYRD is an Atlanta artist and writer.