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VISUAL ESSAY with Suzy Spence

All images: © Courtesy of Suzy Spence

Curated by Varia Serova



Circumstantially caught between urban and rural, Suzy Spence documents an inhabited landscape quite different from her contemporaries, evincing her profoundly personal aesthetics and her unique investigation into the depiction of physical and psychological space. Through merging a feminist approach, personal experience, and a centuries-old tradition of sporting paintings, Spence continuously renders her witty creative world inviting in its solidarity, preserving her unique place in the genre’s history.


"I began with a lot of theory knocking around in my head. I sought to get past that, but it took a long time, probably not until I was in my forties. My focus now is solidly on painting, the history of painting, with nods to the New York School and English sporting art, which I admit are strange bedfellows. I am always thinking about the women who painted during the years of the feminist art movement when painting was unfashionable — that took guts, and that’s my sweet spot."

Photography by MG Vander Elst © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Photography by MG Vander Elst © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


© Courtesy of Suzy Spence


© Courtesy of Suzy Spence


"I’m drawn to confessional, narrative art, like Nan Goldin’s photographs and the music of Joni Mitchell. The Widows describe a state of mind that began in 2016 when Trump became president and I was going through a dramatic break up. I imagined a room full of these women lining the walls from top to bottom, like you’d see in an Ivy League University or prestigious hospital — they’d be all the “presidents”, all the suffragists. I paint in poetic language so no idea here is fixed, but symbols like the topcoat, veil and stock tie, have been rich to explore."

Widow V (smoker), 2018, flashe on paper, 39 x 50 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Widow, flashe on paper, 39 x 50 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Dove, 2018, flashe on paper, 9 x 12 in. © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Widow IV (red coat), 2017, flashe on paper, 39 x 50 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Widow VI (pink), 2018, flashe on paper, 39 x 50 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Varia Serova: Your artistic life and career was closely linked with de Land’s circle, as you began exhibiting at Colin de Land’s gallery American Fine Arts Co. in 1996. What was this experience like for a young artist?
Suzy Spence: He (by chance) asked me to bring examples of my work into his gallery on the day of Princess Diana’s funeral. I had made some small portraits of her in 1994, so I brought them in with me as a lark. The artist Jack Pierson was in the back room visiting Colin, and Jack bought one of these Di paintings on the spot for his mother. That was the beginning of my relationship with Colin. He was incredibly in tune with my work, and he supported me by giving me my first solo exhibition. I was thrilled because some of my favorite artists had worked with him: Cady Noland, Jessica Stockholder, Alex Bag, Moriko Mori. On any day you might run into John Waters, Steve Buscemi, Isa Genzken (was she living in the basement or was that someone else?!) He attracted interesting people, and it was pretty exciting.

Widow VII (Bowler), 2018, flashe on paper, 39 x 50 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Widow II (Smoker), 2017, flashe on paper, 39 x 50 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Widow V.5 (blue veil), 2018, flashe on paper, 39 x 50 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Untitled Smoker, 2017, flashe on paper 16 x 16 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


© Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Photography by MG Vander Elst © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


"I grew up on the coast of Maine on an island where mountains meet sea in dramatic landscapes. That coastal area has a rich Modernist tradition with strong ties to New York City (think Louise Nevelson and Marsden Hartley), and a lot of well known artists continue to paint there. My mother who is a painter, moved to Maine from New York City when we were very young. Later I made my way to art school at Parsons and lived for many years participating in the art and fashion world in New York. The city is fantastic for ideas and for meeting people from all over the world… But while I was doing all of that, I was forgetting my strong connection to nature. For the past twelve years Vermont has offered me something similar to Maine, but the landscape focus here is on the mountains and the fields rather than the sea."

Hunter (Shooter), 2019, flashe and acrylic on paper mounted on panel, 16 x 20 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Racer Girl, 2019, flashe on panel, 12 x 14 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Pink Smoke, 2020, acrylic on paper mounted panel, 39 x 50 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Black Eye II, 2018, flashe on paper, 16 x 20 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Cloud Walk, 2021, flashe and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 96 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


"My hunt scenes reference English sporting art, which were themselves an embellishment of reality. Those painters pleased their patrons with idealized images of the land, animals, and subjects’ dress. Landscape is a fantasy space for me, loosely based in truth. Nothing matters in a painting except what happens within its own borders — paintings have their own logic, their own truth."

Untitled, flashe on paper, 16 x 20 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Untitled, flashe on paper, 16 x 20 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Leg Up, 2018, flashe on paper, 18 x 24 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


© Courtesy of Suzy Spence


© Courtesy of Suzy Spence


"Studio work is basically an athletic event, so for example I need to have eaten, be in comfortable shoes, have the correct light and the correct physical distance to my painting surface. I try to attain a trance-like state … painters like Joan Mitchell and Jean Michel Basquiat used alcohol and drugs to get there, which was a short cut. Musicians will do the same thing , like Charlie Parker and Amy Winehouse. I try to achieve a creative trance without that juice, because I want to survive! So I use music and meditation and I try not to force my creativity. "

Royal Astor, 2019, acrylic on panel, 16 x 16 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Hounds of Love [detail], 2021, flashe and acrylic on canvas, 60 x 96 in © Courtesy of Suzy Spence


Gallop, 2020, flashe on canvas, 5 x 9 ft. © Courtesy of Suzy Spence