A Quest for Humanity’s Unmasked Self


Theatre Paintings by Susan Wald are currently being exhibited at Janet Clayton Gallery, a show which has run from 19 July, but will close on 13 August. The paintings have resulted from sketches produced by the artist during the weeks of rehearsals for two particular theatre productions, 20 years apart: “The Exile Trilogy” directed by Barrie Kosky in 1990s and Adena Jacobs’ adaptation of an ancient classic, Sophocles’ “Elecktra” (2010).

Susan Wald is drawn to explore the most complex and possibly the darkest side of human nature, an area where the deepest of vulnerabilities and most bold of truths reside. In the words of the artist herself, this is where we are “ hidden behind the masks we present to others in our daily lives”, what Grotowski, the renowned Polish director of the 60s, calls “ the mask of common vision”, one that obscures the truth. Raw emotion, a profound vulnerability, what we normally want to hide, all these are precisely what Susan is summoned to reveal.

Theatre offers just the right tool for her exploration. The productions which Wald selected for her purpose have a great deal in common: both are dark, bloody and inspired by mythology. Her very choice reveals her penchant for the quest for unseen truth, that which is buried deeply within the layers of the human psyche. Wald seizes upon the most extreme moments – when the actors are “in trance”, “a moment of psychic shock, a moment of terror, of mortal danger or tremendous joy, a man does not behave “naturally”, observes Grotowski.

Similarly to Grotowski’s approach to making theatre, Susan Wald’s painting theatre is to reveal the vulnerable human, unmasking the moment when human beings are inevitably being truthful to themselves, when in a highly elevated spiritual and emotional state. Theatre Paintings often feature a lone figure, in deep conflict or convulsed with grief and pain. A solitary figure silently screams, as Elecktra is seen torn between her victimhood and her desire for revenge, emotions conveyed by Susan using flashes of orange and conflicting lines which emerge from the darkness. The dark tone and criss-crossed lines reinforce the unresolved fight within her psyche. In some of the paintings, the bodies are so tormented that they seem disfigured and take what is close to an abstract form. The figures emerge from somewhere deep within their inner selves; they appear bare, almost transcendent in their extreme pain. However, the whole painting is lifted as liberation. Facing human darkest pain and grief, Wald’s brush strokes transcend them. Wald’s Theatre Paintings depict the very process, described by Grotwski “ in which what is dark in us slowly becomes transparent.”