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Susan Bee | The Challenge of Painting | Art Wall on Third Exhibition Series


April 9th, 2015 - August 20th, 2015

The Art and Picture Collections at Mid-Manhattan Library present the exhibition titled The Challenge of Painting featuring three oil and enamel paintings created by artist Susan Bee in 2014. These paintings highlight two related aspects of the artist’s work, her use of black and white film stills and her use of genre paintings from the 1800s.

The Kiss, 2014. 24 x 20 inches, oil and enamel on canvas. © Susan Bee
The Kiss. 24 x 20 inches, oil and enamel on canvas. 2014© Susan Bee

The keyed-up colors, energetic patterns, and painterly abstractions that also populate these pieces make them psychologically complex. The couples and characters depicted are nearly overwhelmed by tumultuous passages of paint that threaten to separate and engulf the figures. These works are full of tension and tenderness. From playful drips and floral patterns to stripes and thick brush strokes, Bee’s paintings make palpable a wide range of human emotions. They address visual complexity, sensuality, dramatic tension, as well as humor. By the use of various patterns, color palettes, and techniques in the spaces surrounding the figures and often on the costumes on the figures, the artist creates compositions appropriate for the content and mood of each work.

Art critic and poet Raphael Rubenstein joins Susan Bee for An Artist Dialogue series event, on Saturday June 6 at 2:30 p.m. inside the Corner Room.

This exhibition marks the tenth anniversary of Art Wall on Third exhibition series initiated and curated by Arezoo Moseni.

Two of these mid-size oil and enamel paintings dramatize the relationships between male and female characters through the lens of the films of the 1920s and 1950s. The Kiss is related to a Buster Keaton film still from the 1920s. Another painting is a takeoff on a still from the film Raisin in the Sun starring Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier. I made this painting, after Dee’s recent death, in tribute to her. The Painter’s Triumph reconsiders the American painter William Sidney Mount’s humorous genre painting from 1838. The paintings use a flattened and abstracted picture plane as a starting area for uncanny narrative and figurative overlays. These paintings are spaces for a drama to take place. The figures are actors and actresses in a stage that I am setting up for them to play out their roles. The paintings have brought into focus the power of the individual faces and bodies and their relationship to the painted ground and also their relation to each other. I am emphasizing the dynamic between the figures. The focus of the paintings is on these relationships and the spaces and emotions that are carved out among the persons that I am portraying.

Raisin in the Sun. 28 x 22 inches; oil, enamel, and sand on canvas. 2014 © Susan Bee
Raisin in the Sun. 28 x 22 inches; oil, enamel, and sand on canvas. 2014 © Susan Bee

Susan Bee is a painter, editor, writer, and book artist, who lives in New York City. In 2015, her photograms and altered photos from the 1970s were exhibited at Southfirst Gallery in Brooklyn. She has had seven solo shows at A.I.R. Gallery, NY, and a solo painting show at Accola Griefen Gallery in New York. Bee has also had solo shows at the University of Pennsylvania, Kenyon College, Columbia University, William Paterson College, and Virginia Lust Gallery, and her work has been included in numerous group shows.

She has a BA from Barnard College and a MA in Art from Hunter College. Her artwork is in many public and private collections including the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery at Reed College, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Princeton University Library, Getty Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Yale University, Clark Art Institute, The New York Public Library, and Harvard University Library. 

Bee has published fourteen artist’s books. She has collaborated with writers including Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, Jerome Rothenberg, Regis Bonvicino, Rachel Levitsky, and Jerome McGann. Her upcoming book from Litmus Press is Fabulas Feminae with Johanna Drucker. Bee is the coeditor with Mira Schor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artist's Writings, Theory, and Criticism published by Duke University Press in 2000. She was the coeditor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A Journal of Contemporary Art Issues from 1986-1996 and is currently the coeditor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online

Bee’s work has been reviewed in many publications including Art in America, The New York Times, Art Papers, The Brooklyn Rail, ArtNews,, ArtSlant, The Forward, and Two Coats of Paint. She won a Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts in 2014 and has had fellowships at the MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo. In addition, she received Publication Grants, from the Visual Arts Program, National Endowment for the Arts, from 1992 to 1997 and Publication Grants, from the Visual Arts Program, New York State Council on the Arts, from 1989 to 1997. Bee teaches at Pratt Institute and the University of Pennsylvania.