Susan Bee

Susan Bee

Fellow: Awarded 2014
Field of Study: Fine Arts

Competition: US & Canada

School of Visual Arts, New York City; University of Pennsylvania; Pratt Institute

Susan Bee is a painter, editor, and book artist who lives in New York City. She has had seven solo shows at A.I.R. Gallery in New York, including Doomed to Win: Paintings from the Early 1980s, curated by Kat Griefen  in April 2014. Bee had a solo show, Criss-Cross: New Paintings, in May-June 2013 at the Accola Griefen Gallery in New York. Bee is represented by Accola Griefen Gallery and A.I.R. Gallery in New York City.

Bee has published six artist’s books with Granary Books, including collaborations with poets: Bed Hangings, with Susan Howe, A Girl’s Life, with Johanna Drucker, and Log Rhythms and Little Orphan Anagram with Charles Bernstein, and The Burning Babe and Other Poems with Jerome Rothenberg. In addition, she has done seven artist’s books for other publishers. Two recent books are Entre (2009) with poems by Regis Bonvicino (Global Books, Paris, France), and The Invention Tree with poems by Jerome McGann (Chax, 2012). Her upcoming book project is Fabulas Feminae with Johanna Drucker.

Bee has 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 earned a B.A. from Barnard College and an M.A. in Art from Hunter College. Her artwork is included 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, New York Public Library, and Harvard University Library.

Bee has lectured at many institutions, including Columbia University, School of Visual Arts, Parsons, The New School for Design, the Queens Museum, the University of Pennsylvania, M.I.T., Maryland Institute of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Barnard College. She has also lectured abroad in China, France, Sweden, Cuba, New Zealand, and Korea. Her artwork has appeared in Bomb, The Capilano Review, OEI, Art Journal, Sibila, ProFemina, Heresies, Sulfur, and Ubu Web, among  many oppublications and online journals including Her work is also featured on many book, magazine, and CD covers.

Bee is the coeditor with Mira Schor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artist’s Writings, Theory, and Criticism, with writings by over 100 artists, critics, and poets, 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 to 1996 and is currently the coeditor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online. The twenty-fifth anniversary issue of the journal was published online in 2011.

Bee’s work has been reviewed in such important publications as Art in America, The New York Times, Art Papers, The Brooklyn Rail, ArtNews,, ArtSlant, The Forward, and Two Coats of Paint. She had fellowships at MacDowell Colony in 2012, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, in 2002 and 1999, and Yaddo in 2001 and 1996. In addition, she received publication grants from the Visual Arts Program, National Endowment for the Arts, from 1992 to 1997, and from the Visual Arts Program, New York State Council on the Arts, from 1989 to 1997. Bee teaches at the School of Visual Arts MFA in Art Criticism and Writing Program, Pratt Institute and the University of Pennsylvania.

Artist’s Statement

Black-and-white film stills are the pictorial basis of the majority of my new oil paintings. The keyed-up colors, energetic patterns, and painterly abstractions that also populate these pieces make them psychologically complex. The solitary individuals, couples and familial groups depicted in these works 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 dots and dashes to aggressive, frenetic brush strokes, I try to make palpable a wide range of human emotions. These primarily small oil paintings dramatize the relationships between male and female characters through the lens of the dark, violent films of the 1940s and 1950s. The paintings use a flattened and abstracted picture plane as a starting area for uncanny narrative and figurative overlays that engage psychic dislocation, trauma, and incongruous mystical and religious iconography. These new works figure complexity, sensuality, dramatic tension, and strong emotions as an interwoven whole. The paintings confront, without resolving or sublimating, gender roles and power relationships. I am interested in finding variety within a given painting format. By the use of various patterns, color palettes and techniques in the spaces surrounding the figures and often on the costumes on the figures, I am creating compositions appropriate for the content and mood of each work. This doesn’t mean, however, that I am seeking only to provide abstract equivalents for the inner states of my protagonists. I am connecting the figurative and abstract parts of each painting and ultimately hope to absorb them as a single experience, though often the non-figurative areas take on a life of their own.

I have become very taken by the idea of theatricality and artifice. I am creating these paintings as 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 film stills I’m referencing are very dramatic. There is a subtle undertone that is pulling you in and pushing you out. I remain intrigued by the dangerous women and the desolate men in film noir. These 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’m now emphasizing the dynamic between the figures, whether they’re pressing against a windowpane, or pressing up against each other. In fact, the paintings’ focus is on these relationships and the psychological space and emotions that are carved out among the persons that I’m portraying.

Photo of the artist by Star Black.


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