Susan Rothenberg, A Queen Of Modern Art


One of America’s most famous Modernist artists of the 20th century created some of the most simplistic paintings of horses. Called “Unfettered Simplicity” by Hyperallergic,  though her work is certainly more detailed then other more modern works of art that sell for millions. Read on to discover the world of Susan Rothenberg!


Susan Rothenberg was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1945. She decided early on that she wanted to become an artist, graduating  In 1966  from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. To further her arts degree, she moved to  Washington, DC and studied at George Washington University and the Corcoran Museum School. She would then move back to NY in 1969. Several years later in 1975, she had her first exhibit at 112 Greene Street Gallery, NY. Her works exhibited  were paintings of three large-scale paintings of horses. Art 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.” Called one of the most independent contemporary artists, the public and art critics fell in love with her “primitive” drawing and paintings of animals and figures. In an interview with Bomb Magazine, Rothenberg stated that “I looked up “abstract” in the dictionary. I would have said my work is not abstract, but I read these various definitions: to draw away from; expressing a quality apart from an object; insufficiently factual; disassociated from any specific interest; BUT also: having only intrinsic form with little or no attempt at pictorial representation. I guess one might say the paintings are fractionally abstract.”

That’s the fun of painting. You don’t have to have any real base or any real governing laws like you do in sculpture. That’s a place you can truly be anti-gravity. – Susan Rothenberg, Interview with Bomb Magazine

In 1971, Rothenberg  married to sculptor George Trakas. Their marriage was short lived, lasting only 8  years. The couple had a daughter together, Maggie, in 1972. Later in 1989, Rothenberg married artist Bruce Nauman.

Famed New York Times art critic, David Belcher, wrote that comparisons between Rothenberg and Georgia O’Keeffe had “become hard to avoid.” Susan Rothenberg moved to  New Mexico’s rustic desert landscape. Besides the equine paintigns she is so well known for, she also paints many other subject matters, such as dancing figures, heads and bodies and animals.

In terms of goals—I used to want to make a painting that was a so-called “knock your socks off” painting. I wanted impact. I wanted a simple strong what they are anymore unless I tell them—I’m again searching for a certain kind of clarity, but I’m no longer looking for impact at all. And if I would use a word to define my current goals, after spending about two years trying to paint movement, light, and color, I have a desire for—diffusion is the word I want to use.

I want to make an image about a sort of multiple image, about separating out of one’s skin, which is a direct reflection of me always looking for some anti-gravity device. I think in almost all the paintings I’ve ever done there’s a desire for mixing it up, mixing the image up with space. And that’s a reflection of something I’m not terribly articulate about in myself, but is about yearning for a better integration with the space and the world around it. In fact, I’m beginning to think space is more important than the image now. – Susan Rothenberg, Interview with Bomb Magazine

Besides being a acclaimed painter, Rothenberg also has created number of drawings, which she has had several exhibits about as well. She has had 40 exhibits at prominent locations throughout her career as an artist.

….after trying to paint quick movement, and harsh movement, spinning movement, I want triple images, I want . . . Space is becoming more and more important, and image less. That’s a present goal. And I can’t think of any long-term goal. My goals are donkey’s carrots. It’s what I can’t do and haven’t done yet.- Susan Rothenberg, Interview with Bomb Magazine

Rothenberg’s painting below,  “Accident #2” (1993-94), depicts the moment of a riding accident, with a horse’s legs and bowed head in a tangle against an unnerving bright red background. 

Ms. Rothenberg’s are rough and often aggressively simple, suggesting an effort to create real life out of the stripped-down elements of abstract painting.


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