Coloradoans are accustomed to the beautiful terrain they call home. Yet wandering among the golden Aspen forests in autumn or through the Garden of the Gods’ red rock formations, even longtime residents can still be awed. Colorado native and artist Sushe Felix captures this wonder in her paintings, which evoke the sharp geometric style of 20th-century modernism. The historic art movement’s emphasis on streamlined shapes feels suited to her exploration of the region’s dramatic vistas. “It’s all those red rocks and big mountains,” observes Felix. “This area really is special.”
Before developing her current approach, Felix painted pure abstraction. But she soon gravitated toward the work of modernist painters who flocked to the Southwest region in the 1930s and ’40s. Captivated by the area’s mountain ranges and deserts, these artists grounded their simplified forms within the environment. “They showed me how to move forward,” notes Felix, whose work is shown in William Havu Gallery and Raitman Art Galleries.
Felix invents her own panoramas, assembling the most iconic forms across Colorado and the Southwest. “It’s a combination of abstract theory and the beauty of nature,” she explains. Her process is methodical. She refines her composition first in sketches, searching for “either a lot of movement or a sense of stillness.” Using a grid system, she copies each segment onto wooden panels. She then demarcates her outlines with black acrylic over white gesso. This graphic underpainting “really helps the layers of color pop,” explains Felix. The colors are borrowed from nature, ranging “anywhere from intensely dark blue-greens, to the brightest yellow,” explains Felix. This includes the deep vermillion of Colorado’s red rocks, which the artist loves to echo in fall foliage.
Parts of her landscapes would be familiar to the modernist artists who inspired her, but her scenes also include the new. She embraces skyscrapers, roadways and construction cranes as part of her visual vocabulary. These contemporary additions speak to the recent urban transformation Felix has witnessed. “It’s shocking sometimes to go to downtown Denver. Buildings are still springing up everywhere,” she relates. Yet, the juxtaposition against cityscapes only underscores nature’s enduring grandeur. “It’s fun to put the beautiful mountains behind them and say yes, the city is getting built up. But nature, she is still there.”’