Susan's "subject matter, context and medium...present a coherent artistic vision"
John Torreano, Clinical Professor of Studio Art, NYU

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Seymour Chwast

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Today's painting, Cowboy, is student work. I did it as an undergraduate in one of my many illustration classes with Jack Potter. He was my mentor and I credit him for any ability I have today as an artist. Mr. Potter was a successful illustrator, especially in the fashion world. However, he gave that up to become a teacher at SVA because he didn't like what was then happening in the field of illustration.

He yelled at me endlessly in class. Once I left my sweater in class and Mr. Potter asked his teaching assistant whose sweater it was. The TA didn't know my name, so he replied, "The girl you always yell at." When Mr. Potter heard that, he knew he had gone too far. The next time he saw me he apologized and explained that he always yelled at the "good" students. He said I in particular frustrated him because I was almost "there" but just short of it.

Back to Cowboy. In Mr. Potter's classes we were only allowed to draw models from real life, not photographs (as was being done at that time and was the reason why Mr. Potter started teaching in the first place). He always created elaborate setups with at least one live model. In this instance, it was the cowboy sitting in a chair, legs stretched out, hands in his lap. That's where this image came from. After making several life drawings from the model in class, we had a week to paint an illustration. At that point we were allowed to draw from photographs to flesh out our concepts and fill the background.

I designed the attacking Indian for the wallpaper and repeated it. That's from my imagination. Capriciously, I decided to have one of the Indians break loose from the wallpaper and cut a slice off the cowboy's back. That's what they used to do, isn't it? So that action is influenced by the movies. With all those Indians armed with hatchets chasing around, the wallpaper has begun to peel. The cupboard is from my photography clip file, but looks suspiciously like one we had at my family's lake house. I like birds, so that's why one flew in. I lost a loved one to cigarettes, thus the cigarettes.

I thought initially that the firing revolver suspended in midair represented the death that smoking causes. Then I thought for formal reasons, the composition simply needed that particular shade of blue in that spot. But it's actually neither. While writing yesterday's post about 1-2-3 Man, I concomitantly jogged loose another chilling bit of family history. I had read the incident in a saved newspaper article I had come upon as a young girl and the image it conjured up had been imprisoned in my mind ever since. I unwittingly exiled it into this painting. Only just now, while viewing Cowboy, did I realize the true meaning of the suspended revolver.

Apparently, a great uncle of mine had been seriously depressed. One day he called his best friend and said, "I need your help. Come over right away. Hurry. I'll leave the door unlocked for you. Don't knock, just come in." Unbeknownst to his friend, my great uncle had rigged his revolver up to the front door in such a way that it would fire when the door was opened. He then sat in front of the door and waited for his friend to "help" him. His friend opened the front door and--


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