Susan Rothenberg, “Raven,” 2010, oil on canvas, 87 1/2 x 75 1/8.”
Susan Rothenberg’s show at Sperone Westwater features vigorous new paintings of birds, circus performers, heads, hands, and smaller paintings of dogs napping in the studio. At first glance, the subjects of the paintings seem unconnected. But the driving force in Rothenberg’s work continues to be the combination of agitated brushstroke and idiosyncratic composition, which enables the painter to move convincingly from perceptual study of the world around her to more symbolic imagery, such as acrobats and detached heads.
In a 2005 interview at Art21, Rothenberg discussed the matter of diverse images in her work.
“Most artists really wish they had a series where one painting would lead to the next painting and it would be a variation on it. That’s what happened in my early career—the horses. Now the paintings are more of a battle to satisfy myself with and I do not have a sense of series. As you see here: there are two snake paintings, two paintings about this idea called meaningless gestures, two paintings that are reflection of my domestic situation in the house. With each of them, the second painting seems to complete the series. I’d like to get a hold of something and be on that idea for a couple of years at least—but that’s not happening at the moment.”
For my part, I’d rather see painters like Rothenberg cast about and explore new ideas than latch onto a single motif and beat it to death. I hope the days of painters making fifty nearly identical paintings are behind us. In my view, Rothenberg should feel more liberated than rueful.
Susan Rothenberg, “Raven,” detail of the branches, 2010, oil on canvas, 87 1/2 x 75 1/8″
Susan Rothenberg, “Ring Necks, Covering,” 2011, oil on canvas, 57 1/4 x 65 1/4″
Susan Rothenberg, “Strangers in the Night,” 2010, oil on canvas, 81 x 115 1/4″
At left: “Ring Necks, Covering.” At right: Susan Rothenberg, “The Height The Width The Weight,” 2010, oil on canvas, 42 3/4 x 51″
Susan Rothenberg, “Circus,” 2009 – 2010, oil on canvas, 76 x 68″
Susan Rothenberg, “White Raven,” 2011, oil on canvas, 92 x 115 5/8″