Susan Rothenberg’s disparate images

Susan Rothenberg, “Raven,” 2010, oil on canvas, 87 1/2 x 75 1/8.”

Susan Rothenberg’s show at Sperone Westwater features vigorous new paintings of birds, circus performers, heads, hands, and smaller paintings of dogs napping in the studio. At first glance, the subjects of the paintings seem unconnected. But the driving force in Rothenberg’s work continues to be the combination of agitated brushstroke and idiosyncratic composition, which enables the painter to move convincingly from perceptual study of the world around her to more symbolic imagery, such as acrobats and detached heads.
In a 2005 interview at Art21, Rothenberg discussed the matter of diverse images in her work.

“Most artists really wish they had a series where one painting would lead to the next painting and it would be a variation on it. That�s what happened in my early career�the horses. Now the paintings are more of a battle to satisfy myself with and I do not have a sense of series. As you see here: there are two snake paintings, two paintings about this idea called meaningless gestures, two paintings that are reflection of my domestic situation in the house. With each of them, the second painting seems to complete the series. I�d like to get a hold of something and be on that idea for a couple of years at least�but that�s not happening at the moment.” 

For my part, I’d rather see painters like Rothenberg cast about and explore new ideas than latch onto a single motif and beat it to death. I hope the days of painters making fifty nearly identical paintings are behind us. In my view, Rothenberg should feel more liberated than rueful.

Susan Rothenberg, “Raven,” detail of the branches, 2010, oil on canvas, 87 1/2 x 75 1/8″

Susan Rothenberg, “Ring Necks, Covering,” 2011, oil on canvas, 57 1/4 x 65 1/4″
Susan Rothenberg, “Strangers in the Night,” 2010, oil on canvas, 81 x 115 1/4″

At left: “Ring Necks, Covering.”  At right: Susan Rothenberg, “The Height The Width The Weight,” 2010, oil on canvas, 42 3/4 x 51″

Susan Rothenberg, “Circus,” 2009 – 2010, oil on canvas, 76 x 68″

Susan Rothenberg, “White Raven,” 2011, oil on canvas, 92 x 115 5/8″

Susan Rothenberg,” Sperone Westwater, New York, NY. Through October 29, 2011.


  1. "I'd rather see painters like Rothenberg cast about and explore new ideas than latch onto a single motif and beat it to death. I hope the days of painters making fifty nearly identical paintings are behind us."

    Thank you for saying that. Finally, someone said that,

  2. Love "White Raven." Reminds me a lot of the mysteries of her earlier Mondrian paintings. I like the way Rothenberg has continually revisited and renewed themes and elements from her earlier work. Thanks also for that detail of the branches – incredible brushwork!

  3. I really loved this show, but I felt that the space was fighting with the paintings, especially on the upstairs floors. The two small paintings that are opposite the elevators allowed no room to step back. On the first floor the work looked great. This is an interesting building but compared to how her work looked in the old gallery space—-well there is no comparison.

  4. I love what you had to say Sharon and enjoyed reading the related posts as well.

  5. I seem to fall in love with everthing Susan Rothenberg does, I dont care if she does the same motif forever, its about the energy, the movement, the visceral painterly surface. Tried to see this show and was so so disappointed when I got there. I read the hours in a mistaken column , got there to find it closed.I called the gallery to report the mistake, they were also quite upset about it. Thank you for posting.

  6. these are intensely moving to me and i adore her Raven….the idea of doing a series is not something that intrigues me nor am i interested in seeing others do it….rather work that emotes without beating it to death…looking forward to more of your new path to come.


  7. I didn't really think the paintings were disparate — rather, I got the sense that she's exploring a singular theme.

    This was the first time I saw one of her shows in person, and I can only guess what the others would have been like, but all the works in this show really speak to each other. They're pretty emotionally charged and interesting to think about.

  8. Love Susan Rothenburg’s work! She was an influence for some of my husband’s work!!!

  9. Agreed. Susan Rothenberg’s brushwork is amongst the best, – “circus” is one of my favourite pieces of all time.

  10. A good way to be free of the feeling of constantly producing great new Art works. Talent is talent and a lot of it may include technique , ability, vision and possibly less ego. Neon & performance are tempting but just other ways to express anyone. Susan : LOVE your works now & then. Remembering you from Bennett ! Thanks !! Dorothy Lewis. Desert hot Springs. CA. Ah. Aht.

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