Today, Rebecca Rubenstein interviews the artist behind of a new show at NYPL’s Mid-Manhattan Library, where artist and librarian Arezoo Moseni regularly curates shows of community artists. Don’t miss Rebecca’s other posts on library-as-incubator happenings in the NYC area! ~Erinn
by Rebecca Rubenstein
Susan Bee’s work brings a distinct style and pushes the boundaries of what a single painting can express through both a layering of ideas and physical texture on the canvas. I spoke to her about her practice and her connection to libraries. The Challenge of Painting is part of the the Mid-Manhattan Library’s Art Wall on Third exhibition series.
RR: Tell me more about what the title of your show, The Challenge of Painting means to you.
SB: My show at the Mid-Manhattan Library, The Challenge of Painting, features three oil and enamel paintings from 2014. These paintings highlight two related aspects of my work: my use of black and white film stills and my use of genre paintings from the 1800s. 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 as well as tenderness. From playful drips and floral patterns to stripes and thick brush strokes, these paintings address a wide range of human emotions. I’m interested in visual complexity, sensuality, dramatic tension, as well as humor. I use a variety of patterns, color palettes, and techniques in the spaces surrounding the figures and often on the costumes on the figures. The challenge is to create compositions appropriate for the content and mood of each painting.
RR: I am interested in how your artistic practice connects to your love of libraries. Please tell me more about this connection.
SB: Many of these paintings are based on movie stills, which I first came across when I came to the Picture Collection on the 3rd floor of the Mid-Manhattan Library in the early 1980s, looking for images of women boxers and fighters for a new series of paintings. This started me on a preoccupation with using black and white film stills for my oil paintings, which continues to the present day. I also used the Mid-Manhattan Library’s art book collection to research images for some of my artist’s books.
I am very grateful to the New York Public Library, as well for nourishing my insatiable need to read as the child of immigrants growing up in Yorkville on Lexington Ave and 85th street. There I was conveniently located between the 79th street and 96 local branches, where I went each week to take out children’s books.
Many of these paintings are based on movie stills, which I first came across when I came to the Picture Collection on the 3rd floor of the Mid-Manhattan Library in the early 1980s
RR: What have some of the highlights been for you in terms of your collaborations with poets?
SB: I have made fourteen artist’s books including many collaborations with poets. I made my first artist’s book, Photogram, in 1978. Painting is very different from making a book. My paintings are one of a kind. With the books, the form has been more open; I have designed the individual spreads than assembled the overall narrative structure. Each book project has been different from the next. What I like about the book form is that one doesn’t view it all at once like a painting– there instead is a gradual unfolding from one page to the next as the pages are turned. I also like the accessibility of the book form. Doing the books has expanded my vocabulary of images and approaches. I have used various forms such as: photography, drawing, watercolor, collage, and gouache in these books.
What I like about the book form is that one doesn’t view it all at once like a painting– there instead is a gradual unfolding from one page to the next as the pages are turned. I also like the accessibility of the book form. Doing the books has expanded my vocabulary of images and approaches.
I have collaborated with writers including: Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, Jerome Rothenberg, Regis Bonvicino, Rachel Levitsky, and Jerome McGann. My upcoming book from Litmus Press is Fabulas Feminae with Johanna Drucker. The images in these books touch on the humorous, whimsical, philosophic, and surreal underpinnings of the poems. Each page of the book presents my own interpretation of the poems. I am not interested in a strict illustrational approach to the words but rather an oblique associative relation between image and poem.
RR: Where can I find more of your work? Which books are available online?
SB: My website has a link to more paintings and to images from the books. Also, some of the limited edition books are in the rare book room of the New York Public Library.
Rebecca Rubenstein is an artist who earned her MFA from from Pratt Institute before enrolling as an MSLIS student at the Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University. She recently completed an internship with the Librarian for Fine Art at New York University’s Bobst Library. One of her projects there was to build a Lib Guide which includes online and print professional development resources for visual artists. She currently works in the eLibrary of an educational software company. Visit her website at www.rebeccaprojects.com.Pin It