Susan Rothenberg (born 1945) is an American contemporary painter, printmaker, and draughtswoman. She has achieved a place of prominence through her iconic images of the horse, in which she synthesized the opposing forces of abstraction and representation. She lives and works in New Mexico, USA.
Rothenberg was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1945. In 1965 she graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. In 1967 she went to Washington, DC and studied at George Washington University and the Corcoran Museum School. In 1969 she moved to New York where she became a member of a dedicated community of artists. Through large acrylic paintings featuring emblematic, life-sized images of horses, largely monochromatic, she established her reputation in the New York art world in the early 1970's.
Rothenberg’s first solo exhibition in New York in 1975 was at the 112 Greene Street Gallery. Consisting of three large-scale paintings of horses, it was heralded for introducing imagery into minimalist abstraction, while bringing a new sensitivity to figuration. Critic Peter Schjeldahl called the show "a eureka," stating that "the large format of the pictures was a gesture of ambition," and that "the mere reference to something really existing was astonishing."
Since the mid-1970s, Rothenberg has been recognized as one of the most innovative and independent artists of the contemporary period. During a time period when minimalism was at the forefront of the New York Art scene, she stood out because of her reintroduction of expression and figuration. Rothenberg’s horse figures of the 70s contained some degree of minimalism because of their repetitive qualities, her hectic yet loose rendering of the figures blended the earlier conventions of abstract expressionism and color field painting. By the early 1980s, she was focusing on disembodied heads and body parts, and by the end of the decade she was painting complex and symbolic figurative works full of color and movement.
At mid-career, she moved to a ranch near Galisteo, NV. Thereafter her paintings reflected life in the Southwest and became suffused with color. Beginning in the 1990s, she used the 'memory of observed and experienced events' (a riding accident, a near-fatal bee sting, and other events) as the inspiration for her subjects and adopted oil paint as her favored medium. As in her earlier works, these paintings are distinguished by thickly layered, energetic brushwork and exhibit her interest in exploring the relationship between images and surface.
In 2010, New York Times art critic David Belcher wrote that comparisons between Rothenberg and Georgia O'Keeffe had "become hard to avoid." From her early years in SoHo through her move to New Mexico's desert landscape, Rothenberg has remained as influenced and challenged by her physical surroundings as she is by artistic issues and personal experiences. In addition to her earliest horse paintings, Rothenberg has taken on numerous forms as subject matter, such as dancing figures, heads and bodies, animals, and atmospheric landscapes. Rothenberg's visceral canvases have continued to evolve, as she explores the boundary between figural representation and abstraction; her work also examines the role of color and light, and the translation of her personal experience to a painterly surface.
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