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

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Alex Katz's Real Muse

Homage to Alex Katz (Sorry Ada, he loves me


Alex Katz 
Cut many hats
 With an extremely close crop.
His chop became a precursor to Pop.

An obsession with Ada
Most definitely played a
Part in the heart of his work
In fact, it drove the master berserk.

Ada, Ada...he prayed ta
Ada - even put her face on a scarf
Ada on this, Ada on that;  the beach towel, a fait a-
Ccompli, made me barf.

Katz painted me in my 60's antiquity
Over and over and into ubiquity. In perpetuity
He'll dance with my cutouts, have drinks with my flats.
Ada is over and that's


That!


Monday, August 24, 2020

The Peacock Moon


Peacock Moon, acrylic on linen, 30 x 20 inches

 I TRY TO CREATE a feeling of stillness in my paintings.  I want the paintings to visually suggest a lull, a sense of portent, slowing a moment right down to its core of frozen energy. I do this because I know that each viewer will bring a different set of life experience to the art, and this enables them to be able to come up with a totally different “story” than the artist’s.


That said, the curator of my recent summer exhibition asked me to write the “story” behind each of my paintings and posted these mini-essays next to the paintings. She felt this would help viewers to engage with the art and that the artist’s “story” at least would give the viewer a platform from which to depart.


Above is the art, and here is the way it came about: I have always been enamored of an antique white garden bench which I have had forever. The bench sings a song to me with its swirling G-clef motif on the seat and rambling flowered vines on the back. I wanted to paint those delightful patterns. I then added a couple of birds to give the painting a little bit of color. In order to balance the composition, and for mystery, I added a bride and groom in their wedding finery rowing in a boat in the moonlight.
 

But here’s the “story” behind the art:

P. Koch and his bride, Henrietta, whom he called “Hen,” embarked on their new forever life. It didn’t turn out exactly as planned, however, because they got caught under the spell of the Peacock Moon. This moon was so exquisitely beautiful that Hen became enchanted and felli n love with it. This infuriated P. In an attempt to make himself more desirable than the moon, P. donned all of the jewelry he had brought on board to bestow upon his bride. When he finished, Hen told him he was indeed more dazzling than the moon and that she would love him forever.

As if in answer to Hen’s sentiment, the jilted moon started pelting them with jewels that were bigger and brighter than either of them had ever seen. P. quickly gathered and fastened the gems to his tuxedo tails to insure Henrietta’s continued love. The boat, now heavy with the extra weight of the moon jewels, sunk quickly.

Just as P. approached the bottom of the river, his bejeweled tails magically turned into colorful feathers which buoyed him up to the surface. Henrietta grabbed onto the feathers and together they floated downriver in the reflected colors of the Peacock Moon. Finally, they landed on an island with a single bench, where they remained for eternity.

P. Koch had become exquisitely beautiful but couldn’t do much anymore. With all the added weight, he moved slowly and awkwardly. He also lost his power of speech and instead had an ugly squawk for a voice. The formerly lovely Henrietta curiously started sprouting brown feathers all over. She had taken on all the colors of the Peacock Moon as they mixed together in her reflection in the river. Alone her colors were brilliant, but when mixed, they turned a muddy brown. And so did she.

As it became clear to the two of them that this was to be their forever life, and that there was no going back to their former existence, there was but one thing left to do. P. made a nameplate and hung it on their new home–the  bench.  It read: “Peacock and Peahen forever.”

Artists have long been inspired by peacocks. Here’s a painting done in 1683 by the Dutch artist Melchior d’ Hondecoeter. I could look at this one…
 

Forever,                                                        

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Flying Uni-brow


 Frida Kahlo
Lived in the shadow
Of Diego Rivera
Thinking her work was a flop.

She felt small as a  minnow
An amateur in tow
Diego Rivera
Made art hard to top.

The artist considered her uni-brow
"Ugh," she thought; then shrieked, "Wow!"
Mrs.  Rivera
Discarding her tweezer started to slop

Paint on canvas - uni-brows en masse
Deep in the crabgrass in order to outclass
Diego Rivera
Brow beating her man nonstop!





Sunday, July 5, 2020

Three Lives


Water Under the Bridge, is the third and final iteration of a painting that has lived three lives.

                    
                             Water Under the Bridge, acrylic, 36 x 24"

All of my paintings start out as nothing but a plain white canvas and then evolve into something different. But in order to complete this one, I had to bury its first two lives under layers of new paint. Like former FBI Director James Comey, I feel slightly nauseated about this coverup and I miss the two original images.  But they are, well, water under the bridge.

Water Under the Bridge began simply enough as one of a series of nude studies I was painting from life models. I called this group Shy Nudes. The series was exhibited at Fort Lauderdale's Fat Village, where Shy Nude #2 enjoyed its heyday as part of a Fat Village monthly Art Walk. I called them “shy” because I painted parts of their anatomy as flowers. I did this in an attempt to illustrate (literally)
the unity of humanity and nature.

The painting's second life was as Two Bucks (one human, one deer), which  embodied a further exploration of my belief in the essential harmony between humanity and nature. That life was ephemeral because I soon became more interested in the water and its possibilities than the two bucks.  Fortunately, I take progression photos of my work, so you can see both of these painted over images  below.

               
                                                                                                                        

It is this capricious, uncharted evolution and resolution of a painting that intrigues me. The discovery is thrilling! Can you imagine starting on a project with no notion of what the end will bring or what it will look like? Or even if you start with an embryonic idea, the finished work often turns out to be something completely different from what you originally contemplated. And then, even after it is finished, it evolves into something else and then continues morphing into another image.

Many artists have painted over images for reasons ranging from lack of funds for a new canvas, discouragement, to change of vision–even Picasso! Yes, even his masterpiece Blue Room had two lives: t
he first, a hidden occupant just below the surface paint. You can see him here. If not for infrared technology, he would never have been seen again.

This transformative process of discovery is my favorite part of the painting experience. As to the finished painting?


I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Tingling Elbows

Susan and Alice's Aura at NSU Art Museum of Ft. Lauderdale, FL.




































THIS IS THE FIRST TIME  I exhibited  my work in a museum. I was invited by NSU Art Museum's director  Bonnie Clearwater when I was a painting student at the museum. She loved and chose Alice's Aura  even though her assistant had selected another painting for the show.  The museum staff told me that Ms. Clearwater labeled me a cross between Frida Kahlo and Alice Neel.

At the time of my exhibit, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were showing in the museum's main gallery. You know, your elbows tingle when you are rubbing them against the masters. I hope some of their greatness wore off on me! You can buy my work or prints of it here. My paintings are still cheaper than Kalho's or Neal's, at least until I get a few more museum exhibits under my belt.

Here's a better look at Alice's Aura . She was recently shown in the Treat Gallery, NYC.


Alice's Aura, acrylic on linen, 40 x 30 inches

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Busy as a Bee




THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS CAPRICIOUS and difficult to learn. My friend, Bea, a Brazilian who is currently living in New York and learning the language, recently told me that she had "inhaled" all of the dust from her bookshelves. "Kinky," I thought, until I figured out that she had meant to use the word "vacuumed." Well, she got the concept right; both words mean to draw in matter.

Bea told me that now even her name confused her. In Portuguese it is just her name, but in English, it is not only her name but also means various other things.

I explained the three Bs–"be," "Bea," and "bee"– to her as clearly as I could. The three B's might even be harder to learn than the ABCs because of their similar pronunciation and varying spelling and definitions.

The word "be" is defined as to exist actually;

"Bea" is a given female name like hers, or if capitalized, an acronym (BEA) for the US Bureau of Economic Analysis; and

"Bee" is a yellow and black striped, winged, hairy-bodied, stinging, pollinating insect.

Bea mentioned that she had heard the expression "busy as a bee" and wondered what it meant. I told her about the bees' checkered work history and how their work performance has been aggrandized over the years. Most people think that bees are the hardest working insects in nature–a virtual paradigm of the word "busy"–and liken busy people to them. Thus, the expression, "busy as a bee." Geoffrey Chaucer started the busy bee rumor in his Canterbury Tales, (the Squire's Tale), way back in the fourteenth century, when he wrote,

"... In wommen be; for ay as busy as bees
Be thay us seely men for to desceyve..."

The buzz is that bees are not actually hardworking, industrious insects. Sure they are great pollinators but what is that ... just sex with flowers. Bees work neither efficiently nor hard. They are in fact very laid back workers and work only under certain conditions.

Apparently, they belong to a very powerful union, the Bee Labor Union for Easy-life, known colloquially amongst bees as BLUE. In true BLUE spirit, these bluebloods of the order Hymenoptera don't work if they're feeling a bit blue. And here are some of the conditions that make them blue: Bees don't even venture outside, let alone work, if it's too windy, too still, too sunny , too shady, too wet, too dry, too cold, too hot, too early, too late, too midday, too bright or too dark. This leaves a very small window of working opportunity in which those "busy" bees can perform their job. If any of these adverse conditions prevail, they ask themselves, as if they were Shakespeare,

"to be, or not to be [working], that is the question"

Their answer is always, "bzzzzz ... nooooo!" Under the aforementioned circumstances, they simply are not going to wake up, leave their comfy, warm hives and that absolutely gorgeous queen and go out to work. They don't think so. "Bzzzzzzzz ... noooo!" They would rather stay home and ...

Bee well.

Paint on,
Depingo

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Air Drawing



Jennifer, Blush and eyebrow pencil  on open matchbook cover, 3x 1"





Bouquet, pencil, berries,emon juice and grass on napkin, 5 x 5inches

Bouquet No.2, pencil, berries, lemon juice and grass on napkin, 5 x 5inches





















EVERYTHING AROUND ME  at Foxglove Cottage is so beautiful that when I look at things,  my fingers start twitching with mock drawing. This is similar to playing air guitar, so  I call it air drawing. Unfortunately, the seemingly purposeless movement of my hands is a dead ringer for the movements caused by the nervous disorder, St. Vitus Dance. My twitchy air-drawing fingers remind me of the James Brown song, "I Got Ants in my Pants (And I Want to Dance)."The only difference is that I got ants on my hands and I want to draw.

I felt better about this condition after I read Chaim Potok's novel "My name Is Asher Lev." It happened to the eponymous painter Asher Lev as well. Perhaps it is a common artist's affliction. Sometimes the purposeless hand and finger movement is gentler and less obtrusive, for example, if I am air drawing an outline of a subject. Invariably, though, it crescendos into feverish, frantic back-and-forth motion because I eventually have to air shade within the air outline that I have just  air drawn. At this stage, I am compelled to  find some implements with which to convert the air drawings into actual drawings. So, I  use whatever materials are on hand.

I am very fond of these urgent little drawings that I do on found paper with found implements–poor cousins to the careful, thoughtful drawings that I do in my well equipped studio.. They are urgent and uninhibited and that's what makes them fresh. Speaking of fresh, Matisse and Picasso both used to draw and paint using bodily fluids and products for pigment. Ugh! I draw the line there (pun intended). But I have used pigments derived from berry juice, grass, dirt, lemons, tea and makeup on matchbook covers or napkins, or even bare fingers on fogged-up windows. In a perhaps futile attempt to appear normal, I have to give my quivering hands some purpose, something with which to draw and something upon which to draw. It's either that or I will be carted off to the nearest neurologist quicker than you can say,"I got ants on my hands and I want to draw!"

Friday, May 8, 2020

Severed Cords


Severed Cords, pen and ink on paper, 8 x 11 inches























HI MOM,

HAPPY MOTHERS DAY.  I actually liked it better before the umbilical and telephonic cords were cut. Nonetheless, I hope you are having a heavenly day in heaven. Probably all the days there are heavenly, so what do you call it when it is a special day? Earthly?  I would love to know, but unfortunately we never get to talk anymore what with you in heaven and me on earth.

With all of the new technology, I can't believe I can talk to someone in Mozambique on Facebook, which is thrilling in it's own way, but I cannot talk to my Mom! I'm amazed that some brilliant astrophysicist has not yet figured out how to enable us to talk to those we love after they leave the planet.  After all, we (or at least those of us who are old enough) have watched astronauts walk on the moon.  We saw them take one small step for man in boots so unattractive it made me cringe.

What about doing this for mankind? Let the people who are missing their mothers talk to them. I think that would be a worthwhile scientific endeavor.  I would rather spend money for that than to watch one small step in some majorly ugly boots. Which one would you vote for? I know my vote is going for talking to my Mother.  Her name was Babe Bisgood and she was more interesting than any astronaut.

Since no one else seems to be working on it, I have applied my astonishingly unscientific, nontechnical mind to the problem.  Hey! You never know–a fresh outlook and all. I'll never be hired by NASA. I've got a different kind of mind.  I think I've got it. I'm confident it is original thinking.  What if we simply dial our old phone number from when we were children (In my case, SPencer 9–6134–wish I had my childhood Princess telephone on which to call)  Your parents and you carry the old number with you like sort of a primitive precursor of the bar code.  Why do you think you've never forgotten your old phone number in the first place?  This is the reason. It's just that nobody ever realized it before. I am not even thinking of becoming famous here. I'm just thinking about talking to my Mother.

OK. It's Mother's Day and I'm going to try it. I'm calling.  Here goes ... S.P.e.n.c.e.r.9.6.1.3.4 ... It's ringing ... that's a good sign. Hmmm ... no answer. Well, maybe Mom's out for Mother's Day.  I hope so and I hope she is having a wonderful time.  There is no recording asking me to leave a message, so maybe there is no voicemail in heaven.  Maybe God's not that into technology.  I should think not.  After all, He's very old.

No answer ... that's OK  No problem, Mom.  Love you and catch you tomorrow.

xoxoxoxoxo
Susie

Monday, April 27, 2020

Moon's Day Off

Detail Good Day Moon, acrylic on linen, 24 x 18"



  I THINK MY PERSONAL MOON  is in alignment with the universe. I have been invited to exhibit my most recent paintings with Irreversible Projects at Spectrum Miami  during Art Week in Miami. Everyone else under the moon will be in Miami during Art Week.

And speaking of the moon, in case you ever wondered where the moon goes when he is off duty…he goes home. Just like you and I do.
                      
In Good Day Moon, one of two paintings I created for Spectrum Miami, Mr. Moon is pictured chilling at home, relaxing among his pets and flowers, and about to partake of his breakfast–coffee and a croissant with jam. He loves the way croissants taste, but he loves their shape even more because it reminds him of his own form when he is waxing or waning into his quarter–moon self.  As you can see, his home is quite like ours in all but one respect–it lacks a roof.

It’s kind of spooky how my paintings sometimes design themselves. At those moments I feel that I am merely a laborer following the guidance of some mystical art director. For instance, I had no idea when I started painting the interior background that it would become home to the moon. I was merely making a complimentary-colored backdrop for a bouquet. During the early stages of a painting, my decisions are mostly compositional. So when it came to painting the ceiling, I decided that I would leave the room open to the sky for no reason other than that the blues and whites of the sky would make a pretty backdrop for the flowers in the foreground.

To strengthen the geometry of the composition, I repeated the circle created by the lamp, although I had no idea what it would end up being.  So for most of the time I was working on the painting Mr. Moon was just a penciled-in circle. When it occurred to me that the circle should be the moon (there’s that mystical art director again) his home was already architecturally designed specifically for his needs. Of course the man in the moon would have no ceiling on his house. He wouldn’t use a door to enter either. He’d just drop down from the dawn sky and rise up again into the twilight when he had to return to work.


See you soon, under the light of the silvery moon!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Visitors, Wanted and Unwanted



Blue Shutters,  acrylic on linen, 36 x 24 inchesXXXXXXXXXXXX

THE FLOWERS  at Foxglove are very similar to my friends in that they visit us in the spring and summer. My popularity greatly increases during those seasons because we live right on a lake. The flowers, like my friends, stay for a bit while I enjoy their beauty. But after a brief stay, they depart. Although I miss them, I do not despair because I know they will return the following year.

The perfect blooms of pieris japonica are one of the first to visit me in spring. The sight of its pendulous, clustered creamy flowers peeking over the deck warms my heart and quickly gives me winter amnesia. Then, as if to distract me from pieris, forsythia arrives, bright-yellow and sending its wild flowered shoots skyward. This is an unruly sight, but truly electrifying. Indeed, with its shoots standing on end, the shrubs look like they are being electrocuted. We never prune our forsythia. The part that does not stand straight up tumbles over an eight-foot row of trellises between lake and land and down the other side above a narrow path, creating a golden passageway between land and lake. At the lakefront, forsythia arches over and down our seawall, painting the lake yellow.
I enjoy all this yellow but it makes me feel hot. I need a breeze now. Luckily for me, the lilacs, with their twenty-foot high fluffy heads of foliage, start producing their fragrant lavender and white panicles. The extra weight causes these extremely tall shrubs to sway, fanning me with perfumed breezes off the lake.

Just when I am feeling soothed by the lilacs, the riot of the rhododendron explodes. I am accosted by mound after mound of rhododendron flowers, their long trusses in brilliant shades of orange, scarlet, hot pink and white seemingly mocking me as a painter. They scream "We can paint better than you." They are right. These loud, brightly colored shrubs can paint a better picture than any artist . Even the forsythia looks pale by comparison, so it slowly fades away. I am braver than the forsythia; I stay put and use the rhododendron for inspiration.

Sometimes, we have a guest that I really don't want. Her name is multiflora rose. Her rambling, arching canes rise directly from a crack in some boulders beside our cottage. I greet her every year with mixed feelings. On the one hand I admire her tenacity and in-bloom beauty. But on the other, she is uninvited, ubiquitous and invasive. I hate to be violent, but soon I must start pulling her out by her roots.
I hope I never have to do that to any of my human guests.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Kitchen People

Niagara, digital painting
 THE WALLS ARE ALIVE! With the sound of people!

 I am constantly amazed by my exploration of the world around me. I have decided to share with my readers an important discovery of mine. To wit: there is  another universe which is  teeming with life existing on my kitchen walls. Though strange, the little beings who live in this universe look  something like you and me and pretty much do similar things.  Since I was certain that people would not believe me, I started documenting this universe by painting its inhabitants.

The above painting, Niagara, is my first documentary painting. What's going on here I am not quite sure, but they are clearly there with a cascade of water behind them. They are just  two of the thousands of people carrying on the activities of their  daily little lives–in my kitchen–while I am making toast. They are similar to us in that they are laughing, singing, kissing, being nosy, having babies, celebrating and more.

Forget about being an artist in good standing in the history of art! After this discovery, I will probably win the Nobel Prize!

More kitchen people below.


Thin Ice, digital painting






Kiss, digital painting

Self Toast, digital painting

Newborn, digital painting



Nosy, digital painting

See! Now you  have seen the proof of their existence.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Shape of Things


Coming of Age, acrylic on linen, 24 x 18 inches




































FIGURE STUDIES  are an important  part of our history of art.  They have been around since  the time of the cave drawings at Lascaux, France, where many depictions of human figures were discovered along with the animals and symbols.

I suspect these figures were drawn by men because in early America at least, women were not even allowed to draw from live models.  Until the 20th century, women were restricted to drawing from plaster casts. The  American painter Mary Cassatt (1844 -1926) had to leave the country and go to Paris to learn to paint. She felt she was not learning anything at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, because she, as a woman, was not allowed to draw from live models. At the time it was thought to be bad and even dangerous for women to do so. I guess that would have been called an artist's lament. 

I am happy academics are more enlightened now because one of the most thrilling work that an artist can do is studies from the live human form. I am very lucky because in my undergraduate days I studied drawing under the late, great Jack Potter, a famous artist in his own right. He relentlessly reminded me and my classmates in life classes that we were not drawing people or anatomy, but rather shapes. In his class we were not even allowed to refer to the anatomical names for body parts. For instance, we could not say, "The model's right elbow is out of line."  We had to refer to the model's  "shape," not her  "elbow." If we did, Mr. Potter would remind us, "The model has no elbow, she has a shape."

That was the major breakthrough in my drawing. If you think about it, a  shape, or in this case an angle, is a lot easier to draw than a "flexed arm." It is far less intimidating when you don't have to consider skin texture, hair,  muscles, tendons, nerves, bones,  joints, fingers and so forth. In addition, by simplifying, one achieves a more spontaneous drawing . Once you have the overall shape, you can go back and put in as many of the visual details as you need to tell your story.


Figure Study, drawn with paint on canvas




I hope you like the shape of things!



Saturday, January 4, 2020

Painting in the Deep End of the Gene Pool

Catcher

I love to paint portraits.

In addition to the sheer exhilaration I derive from moving paint around on canvas, it is the best way I know to thoroughly get to know another human being. It's fun and challenging to pose my model and set the right lighting. I study every feature of his face, body and posture. I take into account all of the physiognomy and combine it with intangibles such as personality, intelligence, and background.

While I consider all of these elements that will enable me to discover his true essence, the model subjects his body and being to my artist's gaze. It is an extremely intense and intimate experience for both artist and model because we are both giving something of ourselves to the other. A strong bond forms during the early stages of the painting and the intimacy between painter and model grows deeper as the portrait progresses. At least that's how I feel.

I especially love to paint members of the same family line. It is a fascinating experience from beginning to end of the painting. For example, before I started painting my nephew Madison McLaughlin, I would have thought that "a McLaughlin is a McLaughlin is a McLaughlin." This is not so, because many gene pools contribute to one's appearance. In painting a portrait, the different gene pools vie for attention. It's war between the bloodlines. Which side of the gene pool will win? Which will cancel out the other's features? Which is the stronger contributor to the model? Who, in fact, does Madison look like? The answer is that despite all these contributing genes, Madison looks uniquely like himself. It's my job to find him through exploration with my paints.

Even though I am a reasonably accurate portraitist due to the many years I spent working as an illustrator, when I began the Madison portrait, I might as well have been painting Madison's father. The painting looked much more like his father (my brother) than Madison. I made the necessary corrections –perhaps a slightly squarer jaw, a little longer nose or such– but those changes only made him look more like his brother. After a few more alterations, Madison started looking like a male version of his mother. This simply amazes me because, although I was painting Madison, three other related but uninvited faces had appeared in my painting.

At this point, I said to myself, "Well, it doesn't look like Madison, but at least you're in right gene pool–the deep end of the gene pool maybe, but the right gene pool nonetheless." Counterproductive as it might seem, sometimes I even have to resort to intentional distortions of what I actually see in order to make the painting look more like my model. Finally, I prevailed and Madison emerged from the paint as himself. By the way, that is the most significant difference between artists and non-artists. Most people will say, "I can't draw that." Sometimes I can't either, but I keep trying until I can.

Once I got out of the deep end of the gene pool, I finished the painting with Madison holding a net full of live and healthy butterflies, colorful and jittery as I imagine a young man of Madison's age would be as he embarks on the journey of his life. I entitled the painting "Catcher"–a nod to "Catcher in the Rye.