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

"Great stuff. Love your work."
Seymour Chwast

Search This Blog

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dancing with the Devil

Painting a picture scares the devil out of me. I would rather dance with the devil. I never do any studies for my paintings. I am not Rembrandt. With the vaguest of notions in my head, I will start painting on canvas and then see where it takes itself. I refer to my seminal notion in the beginning of the work, but after that I am led by my brush and guided only by the shapes, textures and colors it produces. Writing this blog is even scarier because I feel that I ought to be more precise with words than with paint. You can't really read something that is abstract. This might be why a picture is worth a thousand words. One of the reasons a picture tends to beat out words is because of the variety of ways that artists can push and pull and interpret and reinterpret the various media used in painting. Because of the more limiting definitions of words, the same is not true with writing.

The Flexibility of Colors: The color red, for example, is the color of the devil and so we can use red to mean "evil" in our drawings and paintings. However, red is also the color of an apple–and what could be more wholesome and innocent than an apple? And so we can also use red to mean "good" in our paintings.

The Rigidity of Words: " Red," the word, means "any of a number of similar colors evoked by light consisting predominantly of the longest wavelengths discernible by the human eye." There is not that much that you can do with red when you think of it that way. If you write the word "red" it means only red, unless preceded by a modifying adjective.

"Devil" can mean pretty much only the devil, unless used in the context of deviled eggs. And even then it suggests a pulverizing beating one might get from the devil. The word "devil" can only be bad. It cannot be good and bad. When we hear the word "apple", we pretty much conjure up that delicious rosy, edible sphere with a stem and two green leaves on top– unless we are thinking of the apple of one's eye, or a man's adam's apple. Even then, the first usage indicates favorite and wholesome - "good" and the second a sphere - "good" also. Both phrases still suggest the basic characteristics of the word "apple." I cannot think of a way to use the word that connotes evil, unless perhaps in the context of the apple that Eve ate in the Garden of Eden–and even that apple probably tasted good. I guess an apple was "bad" for Snow White, but even then it had to be preceded by the word "poison." The word "apple" couldn't do it alone. It has its limits.

To support my claim that the painter's medium is superior to the writer's, consider the words of Roger Angell, the noted essayist and New Yorker editor: "Fiction is special, of course, for its text must retain the whorls and brush-splashes of the author: the touch of the artist." Ironically, on the same page, he recalls an editing session he had with a fledgling writer. He chides the neophyte "And then here's your "dirgelike darkness," right in the middle of your wonderful scene. Can darkness have a sound?" he asks the young writer. I believe it can and should, especially in the context of Angell's use of the phrase "whorls and brush-splashes" in his own writing.

One of my professors, Stuart Leeds, a New Yorker artist, always told us that only one of his students used black and white as if it were color. To me, that means that colors can not only represent multiple meanings, but can represent other colors as well. How versatile is that? I've tried to demonstrate this in my drawing of a red ..... er ..... ahem ..... uh....... black and white...... devil above.


  1. Great stuff. Love your work.

  2. marsha weinschenkerMay 2, 2010 at 12:44 PM