Art21 Extended Play

Susan Rothenberg: Emotions

Episode #099: Filmed at her home and studio in New Mexico, artist Susan Rothenberg explains how she transforms personal experiences and feelings into works that can become an “emotional moment” for the viewer. While discussing the loss of her dog, Rothenberg describes the process of recovering a memory of her pet through the act of painting.

Susan Rothenberg’s early work—large acrylic, figurative paintings—came to prominence in the 1970s New York art world, a time and place almost completely dominated and defined by Minimalist aesthetics and theories. The first body of work for which she became known centered on life-sized images of horses. Glyph-like and iconic, these images are not so much abstracted as pared down to their most essential elements. The horses, along with fragmented body parts (heads, eyes, and hands) are almost totemic, like primitive symbols, and serve as formal elements through which Rothenberg investigated the meaning, mechanics, and essence of painting. Rothenberg’s paintings since the 1990s reflect her move from New York to New Mexico, her adoption of oil painting, and her new-found interest in using the memory of observed and experienced events (a riding accident, a near-fatal bee sting, walking the dog, a game of poker or dominoes) as an armature for creating a painting. These scenes excerpted from daily life, whether highlighting an untoward event or a moment of remembrance, come to life through Rothenberg’s thickly layered and nervous brushwork. A distinctive characteristic of these paintings is a tilted perspective in which the vantage point is located high above the ground. A common experience in the New Mexico landscape, this unexpected perspective invests the work with an eerily objective psychological edge.

The exhibition Susan Rothenberg: Moving in Place is currently on view at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico (through May 16, 2010). Co-organized by the Museum of Modern Art Fort Worth, the exhibition’s installation in Santa Fe showcases the relationship between O’Keeffe and Rothenberg: “each has established a significant place and artistic identity in the American Southwest, an area initially defined as a male domain in that the majority of its early Anglo visitors and inhabitants — explorers, ethnographers, photographers, traders, cattle ranchers, and cowboys — were men.”

Susan Rothenberg is featured in the Season 3 (2005) episode Memory of the Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century television series on PBS. Watch the full episode online via Hulu.

VIDEO | Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Dyanna Taylor. Sound: Jim Gallup. Editor: Paulo Padilha. Artwork Courtesy: Susan Rothenberg.