Since leaving Switzerland, in 1982, Vivian Suter’s work is closely bound up with the place where she has lived and worked since – Panajachel, Guatemala. Her studio at the Lake Atitlán was originally a coffee plantation, now overgrown with the avocado and mango trees that were first introduced to protect the coffee bushes. From the upper floor of the studio, Suter looks out over a subtropical landscape of lakes and volcanoes, whilst downstairs the views of dense vegetation turn her experience inwards. It is this environment, with its expressive fertility, that shapes her paintings. The images Suter produces are not realistic illustrations of the land, but partly abstract contemplations of an almost mystical relationship between the human and natural elements that are constantly at play there. Often, Suter leaves her works out in the open, where they are changed by the sun, wind, rain and mud. At least two times, following the hurricanes Stan (2005) and Agatha (2010) that ravaged Guatemala, the studio was flooded and the canvases marked by the height of the water and mud. All these events are present in the final paintings in ways that make them become diaries of their own making.
This recording of process also shapes the way the works are shown in public, often without stretchers or hung from wooden racks like laundry. The acceptance of the often destructive forces of nature as part of everyday life, reflects a philosophical approach that seeks to live with what happens, rather than to determine what must be. In this sense, Suter reaches an equilibrium in her paintings that is very far from the old modern idea of viewing art as a means of shaping nature and society. In her work, things are what they are, in a way that suggests a faith in forces beyond her understanding; or a balance that recalls older belief systems and their respect for the natural world and humanity’s place within it. – CE