(Catalogue essay for Cleveland Artists Foundatiuon, Jan. 2013)
Audra Skuodas: A Flower Knows Its Archetype


Audra Skuodas proposes a kind of crossroads in her paintings, a place where modes of being
intersect. She expresses this directly in geometric or iconographic terms, but also in a more
subtle, encompassing language of layers. Her musically rhythmic color fields suggest that
particles are waves, or that both are finally piercings in a universal shroud, at once wounds and
sublime formulae. She renders elegantly precise trompe l’oeil incisions which at first sight look
like actual cuts, slicing into the surface of her canvases. These slits are pathways, doors that
open to other worlds. They cling to the back of our reality, as near and yet as antithetical to our
perception as the silvering of a mirror.
Although by temperament a transcendental, consummately abstract painter, Skuodas often
includes figures in her work. Over the past two decades these have a consistently
autobiographical flavor, but reshaped by heroic or folkloric visions. As the series evolves, the
images move away from full-bodied depiction to become ever more attenuated, until in some
works they are all but invisible. The folk Skuodas finds at the far end of her journey seem like a
race of saints or angels, neither fallen nor celestial, such as might wander and spell a message
of their own between the sentences of more common gods, dancing at a corner of perception
where thought and symbol briefly coalesce. Skuodas depicts a half-world, or perhaps a world
and a half, where the emotional and the mathematical touch, a transparent meeting place for
forms and the spirits of forms, wrapped loosely or tightly around the bones of infinity.
Her vision is focused on essences. In very early, surrealist-oriented works Skuodas depicts
rooms which open onto sea and sky, or shows the interior of a tent in a desert landscape, or
proscenium-like spaces, where bold shadows lap at the edges of inscrutable scenarios. Many
of these paintings from the late 1960’s and 1970’s are quite large, using scale to evoke myth
and time. But with those images, as in her work today, much of the drama is a matter of color:
red opens into blue, warm steps into cool, as Skuodas imagines an echoing stage or
remembers a dream. They don’t usually use the cross itself or speak directly of the psychic and
physical trials that Skuodas conjures – if obliquely -- in later works. But the barren continents
and wide seas which become a pulsating cosmic ground in the 1990’s are already present,
filling windows or the silhouettes of absent lovers. All of these paintings are populated by
figures which are at once portraits (often self-portraits) and archetypes. They embody the
powers latent in the mind, fleshing out the occult chemistry of transformation.
Eventually in the 1980’s her figures lengthen and deepen, becoming the shadowy outlines of a
stranger selfhood. They seem like history itself, suffering but also transcendent. In many
drawings and paintings from the 1990’s, and all the way to her present bodies of work,
Skuodas references both Christian and pre-Christian art of Eastern Europe, and in her way
pays homage to the dead, including those lost in the great conflagration that was part of her
childhood in Lithuania, and during the years in the aftermath of the Second World War when
she and her family were interned in a series of displaced persons camps.

They are extraordinary creatures, these angelic figments, naked refugees from a cruelly
beautiful supernatural realm, appearing and disappearing, wrapping and piercing, like thorn
branches woven into a wicker gate. Sometimes the artist depicts only their knobby, haunted
hands, clasped against an echoing color field, or their arms and legs stretched far beyond any
normal limits, twining around the picture plane. Behind them and through them Skuodas
spreads a score of visual music which changes its notation from piece to piece and medium to
medium. Long, undulating strands of hair-like red pencil lines track delicately across vellum
scrolls; hardy squares of rag-based paper are sewn with billows and spirals of red thread. She
moves between materials and approaches restlessly, sometimes using several on the same
surface, or spreading them out in a diptych or triptych. Her encyclopedic website, which
comprises hundreds of objects, includes not only paintings and drawings, but prints, collages,
and eighteen book-formatted works. Semi-transparent, intersecting layers and complex linear
passages are among the characteristic features of virtually all of them.
Skuodas’ constant awareness of rhythm is like the beating of a heart, marking the knowledge
that the essence of life is repetition. Her red thread and red pencil marks tingle like a needle
pressing lightly along the top layer of perception, pressing and then slipping under to make a
shallow bead of welling energy. Many of the works in what she titles the “Vibrational
Vulnerabilities Series G” (she’s painted series under that name, so far reaching the letter E,
since 1995) are studded with nodes that glitter in the light -- flashing fermions, lacing together
the branes theorized by contemporary theoretical physics with cold fire.
In several recent five by six foot paintings Skuodas uses buttons in mathematically regular
arrays, producing a steady-state grid or a Fibonacci swirl. When asked to explain his art,
DeKooning replied, “I’m buttoning up God’s overcoat.” I think Skuodas would second that. In
general, she depicts things which contemporary artists rarely address, though there’s plenty of
precedent in the history of modernism -- a foundational abstractionist like Wassily Kandinsky
wasn’t shy about his transcendental aspirations when he wrote his 1911 treatise “Concerning
the Spiritual in Art.” And there’s Audrey Flack’s singular book of observations from 1986, “Art
and Soul,” which shows a similarly complex appreciation of the role that the psyche plays in the
creative process. Though she rarely titles individual works, Skuodas has been known to
embroider phrases and sentences around the borders, hymns to harmony, to love and to the
beauty of the universe.

She imagines the unimaginable, things that never had objective form, the phenomena, in fact,
that Kandinsky or Mark Rothko understood to be the proper objects of painting’s consideration:
the ineffable, and those larger than life events and decisions that reverberate for generations
as the poetics, the soul, of history. Skuodas transmutes her materials, creating simulacra that
resemble nothing but the sloughed skin of music, its golden fleece, that discern the caress and
tone, the grip and smile of mathematical concepts. Her palette is the spectrum of enlightenment
– colors of pink and yellow and tangerine and the palest of early morning blues – shades that
might be found in the sky behind a Murillo Assumption, or an illustration of the Ramayana. In a
spacious kingdom of her own devising, where the templates of being twist together in eternal
winds, the painter searches for, and surely finds, herself. As one of her inscriptions reads, “The
flower knows its archetype.”