Thursday, May 06, 2021

Dear Susanna

Susanna Heller. Eyes in a Bleak World, 2020

Susanna Heller passed away. This is a shock to anyone who knows her, as life coursed through her person and work with such ferocity it was to encounter full presence. Her dear friends Medrie McPhee, Mira Schor, and Susan Bee posted the news today on social media, which is confirmed with a tribute on the website of Olga Korper, her longtime Canadian gallery. Olga Korper Gallery Link

We met in 1997 when she and Andy Spence hired me at Bennington College as a lecturer (one year) and I brought her to USF as a visiting artist in 2004. She is the only person I know who spoke to the students for two hours, fueled by passion for paint and politics. 

But it is her work, the equation of mark and presence, that overpowered me then and now. Drawings covering walls, line as both motion and fact. 

Words do not, cannot, suffice and many will be and have been written far more articulate than these, as her closest friends include Medrie McPhee, Mira Schor, Susan Bee, and Tom Knechtel. Here is a link to the 2020 interview with Medrie McPhee and Sharon Butler in Two Coats of Paint just prior to her show at Korper. Endless Strength (Two Coats of Paint). A post about her sketchbooks can be found on Cathy Nan Quinlan's blog here: Talking Pictures (2018) and more from this blog here: Raggedy Anns Foot (2013).

The excerpt below is a chewy gift for thought. You are forever an inspiration, dear Susanna.

"MM: I didn’t realize! That’s what I thought was scrap material. 

SH: It is. These are all of my materials as well as my paintings. I keep all of my paper. That’s why I love paper palettes, because think about it Sharon, sometimes you need a gestural mark but sometimes you need a kind of static lump that just sits there. It’s like you’re an orchestrator and you need all of the different kinds of sounds together. To me painting is all about the physicality. The presence of you as a viewer and the presence of the thing and the joy of imagination, which, you know I might be speaking Latin here but I don’t really care. 

SB: It’s true. I like that, the joy of imagination. Medrie, you’re working on paintings that are very physical, too. 

MM: Well, yes! I find it liberating because most of my life as an artist I’ve been bound up with images and I’ve found a way to break from that.

SH: But I think I am too. I’m the only one who thinks that but to me they are absolutely hyperreal. 

MM: Well you know, I think that even that as an argument “is it representation or abstraction?” has been put to rest, other than as a short hand for “can this be read?” as an image of something or not. But yeah, Sharon is right. I’ve always been interested in the physicality of paint but I had to find a way of producing it in my own way. "

If you'd like to see her in action, view this Gorky's Granddaughter studio visit: Heller studio visit -Gorky's GrandDaughter

Adding, a month later, a lovely article from her dearest friends Mira Schor, Nancy Bowen, and Medrie McPhee: