The first time I saw Suzan Woodruff’s paintings in person, I was moved to tears. In the swirling movement of people in a crowded gallery, Woodruff’s paintings touched me to my core. I discovered an emotional poetry that connected us from our childhoods.
Woodruff is an artist who has mastered the fine art of letting go of control. She touches the heavens with her skies or are we swimming in an ocean with no end in sight?
A powerful woman, she told me once that being an artist is the only way she has lived her life and is inspired by the awe of nature, science, space, emotional memories and experiences. She looks at everything; the sky, the oceans, as if she may never see them again.
She has described herself as part mad scientist and part shaman and uses meditation methods to control the chaos while creating paintings that are quieting. Her paintings evoke Georgia O’Keefe, one of the female artists she admires for her use of feminine and sexual imagery.
Woodruff has supported herself as an artist since she left home at sixteen. Truly a non-conformist, she has always lived on the edge of life and in part because her grandmother insisted Suzan was a reincarnated artist, she has always believed in her gifts and her life as an artist. She was born to create.
Everyone is born creative but most people’s insecurities prevent them from pursuing their passions and they are so afraid of failure that it inhibits their ability to explore themselves creatively.
As we orbit through the universe, Woodruff controls bits of our planets’ chaos long enough to create quiet slices of life. Her passion, her presence and her commitment to her art is an art.
I’m told most tourists come to visit Eva Peron’s tomb but I was more interested in Rufina Cambaceros; “ the girl who died twice.” Eva Duarte de Peron’s tomb is the most famous in Recoleta Cemetary but Rufina Cambaceres’s story is the most disturbing. Rufina came from a wealthy family, heirs to a large cattle fortune. She had discovered her fiancé was having an affair. Three doctors pronounced her dead and she was buried alive on her 19th birthday. The explanation doctors gave later is that Rufina suffered from catalepsy which is characterized by rigidity and low vital signs. Catalepsy is the classic buried-alive diagnosis, and the one used in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Premature Burial.” BTW, Rufina is buried three blocks south of Eva Peron.
I’m thinking it was her worst birthday ever. A few days after the funeral, a cemetery worker was concerned about grave robbery when he found that her coffin had moved within the crypt and the lid was broken in place. Rufina, woke up days later after her burial to find herself trapped, tried desperately to escape, then died of a heart attack. Scratches were on her face and covered the inside of her coffin which was opened after her screams were heard. Her father rebuilt the grave site so she is seen opening her own doors. I was in front of her tomb for so long that people started to ask me questions and I found myself explaining Rufina’s story in Spanish, as if I was a tour guide. Rufina’s story should cheer up anyone having a bad break up and yes, a broken heart and sadness can kill or transform.
The profundity of sadness is not easy for me to articulate. When I saw paintings by Suzan Woodruff, I saw sadness. Art work by Cecilia Mandrile moved me to write to her (hence a large part of why I am in Argentina) to help me to understand her sadness. The death of Lucrecia Urbano’s father began her creative process with glass. Hope Edelman’s experience of losing her mother created a sadness that planted the seeds for her Motherless Daughter’s book. I believe my grandmother’s experience of sadness at watching my mother being abused is why she became sick with leukemia. I truly believe Michael Jackson dealt with his sadness with his expressions of music & dance. Feelings of something being incomplete or something lacking stirred a need to create & to help people cope with and understand their sadness.
Eva Peron’s tomb is the most visited grave in Recoleta Cemetary. You can always find it as there are hoardes of tourists and flowers. It was not so interesting to me after the story of Ruffina Camberos. It is a little ironic that Evita was supposed to be buried under a monument which would represent the ‘Descamisados’, the poor working class, but she ended up in a cemetery which represents the wealthiest of Buenos Aires. Recoleta Cemetery is the most expensive real estate in the city.
St. Augustine, after a personal crisis, went through a profound change in his life. He quit his teaching job, gave up any idea of marriage, devoted himself totally to G-d. He said he heard a childlike voice telling him in a sing-song voice, “tolle, lege” -“take up and read.” He gave all his money to the poor, just like St. Francis of Assisi and converted his home into a place where all his friends could live. He was one of the most prolific Latin authors.
oh vosotros que nos llorais
no os dejeis abatir por el dolor
mirad la vida que comienza
y no la que ha concluido
Here’s my translation:
Oh, we should not cry
Do not let yourselves be discouraged by the pain
Look at the life that begins
And not at what has ended
Here is Cecilia’s translation:
Oh, you, who are crying to us,
Don’t let pain defeat you,
Look at the life that is beginning
And not to the one that just have ended.
En frente del cementario es una esquina donde hay un café llamado La Biela donde Borges, el escritor solia pasar la tardes. Borges nacio en Buenos Aires. In front of the cemetery is a street where there’s a café called La Biela where the writer, essayist, poet and translator Borges would hang out in the afternoons. Borges was born in Buenos Aires.
In describing himself, he said, “I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities that I have visited, all my ancestors.”
La Biela was born as Viridita, a sidewalk Café with 18 tables on a narrow sidewalk. Viridita is a mispronunciation of Veredita, a diminutive of sidewalk in Argentine Spanish. It stands in the shade of the mythical 18th C tree, in front of the church of Nuestra Señora del Ria. It’s a landmark and a connecting rod in the social life of La Recoleta’s neighborhood. From there, I walked to Museo Nacional Bella Artes; one of the most important fine arts museums in Buenos Aires.
Upon exiting I was excited to get to my next stop. I made some mistakes. I was tired and should have listened to my gut that said “go back to your apartment.” The next one was getting into a cab to make my way to a different part of the city. I broke too many of my own traveling guides to myself: never get in a cab outside a museum, don’t carry cash after changing money and don’t walk around tired. All lessons. When I went to Puerto Madera and paid to go into the museum, I was told my money was “falso”. A cab driver outside Bella Artes had taken my real money and traded it for fake, a recent con in the city that taxi drivers are playing. I was going to go to Coleccion de arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat. I paid to go in and started to look at the Argentinian art. I was too upset to enjoy the museum. I headed back to my apartment to ponder why. If this is a world where we are all infinitely connected, then why would someone do this? I was left with gratitude that he didn’t have a gun or knife. The truth is there is tremendous crime in Buenos Aires but that doesn’t color the city for me at all. How about the fact that I’ve traveled in places with tremendous poverty like Peru, Bolivia… and I’m robbed in the chic neighborhood of Recoleta? What I came to understand is that instead of listening to the voice inside of me that told me to go back to my apartment, I pushed myself to see more.
For Hope – “What if Brussat quoted Brussai in Brunei?”- Hope Edelman
Spiritual literacy is the ability to read the text of your own lives for spiritual meaning. That means looking at the things you encounter, the animals you encounter, the people, the places where you are, looking at your relationships, looking at all your activities and seeing that within them there is a significance and meaning. The medieval monks used to say that the world was liber mundi, a book to be read. In Islamic tradition, they will say that everything is a letter from God that you’re supposed to read. If you’re Native American and you walk through the wilderness, they talk about “reading sign.” So if a bird appears, it has meaning. That bird is a sign. So spiritual literacy is recognizing that everything you encounter in your daily life is a sign that can be read.
The Los Angeles art scene is invigorating. I’ve had a particular fondness for the Bergamot Art Station because it’s filled with so many galleries; all within immediate distance from each other. A former train station converted into not one but thirty galleries, make up this center in Santa Monica on Michigan Ave. Not only was there a line to get a parking spot but the area outside was packed with people. It thrills me that Angelenos wait in line to see new art.
I headed straight for William Turner’s Gallery as I was excited to see Suzan Woodruff’s new exhibit; Luminous Matters.
William Turner has been discovering emerging artists since he was the intermittent art editor for Venice Magazine in 1993. His gallery; with a grand floor space of 5,000 square feet, is known for emerging artists and high quality work from artists such as Woodruff.
Last year I was transfixed by Woodruff’s paintings at her opening and this year was no exception. As I stood in front of Dragon’s Tail; a painting of reds and whites, I found my emotions begin to stir again, just like in 2010. Her paintings have an intoxicating way of stirring my emotions while instilling calmness and quietude. Woodruff says to paint is to embrace chaos and it’s clear that her touchstone is nature. She makes you see through new eyes by provocation and is inspired by O’Keeffe, Rothko,Pollack and even the Hubble Space Telescope launched by the space shuttle in 1990.
Anak Rabanal; a cohort of William Turner, noticed me staring at the painting and we began to chat. She shared that Los Angeles has the highest concentration of millionaires in the U.S. per capita yet most high caliber art is exported to China, South America and New York. Three of the top 25 art schools in the country are in Los Angeles; UCLA, Art Center in Pasadena and Otis College of Art and Design in LA. She was passionately explaining how collectors buying art now will most likely end up donating it decades later.
Here are some of Woodruff’s new pieces:
Next I headed to Robert Berman’s Gallery. Berman’s art gallery has been in Santa Monica since 1979. He was one of the first galleries to be located at Bergamot Station Arts Center and is clearly a passionate art lover who prefers edginess to his selection of art. His show The Street’ N Low has a mixture of new surrealists, LowBrow art, and graffiti or taggers art.
LowBrow art began in Los Angeles in the 70’s. Also known by the name pop surrealism; this art can often contain a sense of humor. A celebration of being white and American. What immediately caught my eye was Britt Ehringer’s Don’t Mess With Texas, 2008. Ehringer gets his source imagery from the internet, personal photos, old girlie magazines, art books, dreams. His work is meant to operate as triggers; near-archetypes that open onto a whole sphere of imagery firmly entrenched in the collective subconscious. An American; he spent time in Asia in a marble quarry designing giant carved fireplace mantles, bathtubs, and columns. Don’t Mess with Texas is a woman from a nudist camp playing golf with mountains in the background and colorful cats.
Britt Ehringer-Don’t Mess With Texas, 2008
Luke Chueh’s Untitled, 2010. Chueh brings a bit of brute to cute with his paintings straddling comedy and tragedy. Some of his paintings have been made into vinyl toys and his work has been shown around the world. His art is like a nightmare and fun best friend all rolled into one. Or someone who’s got some serious issues but you just don’t mind.
Last but not least; I am a huge fan of Mark Ryden’s work. He was commissioned by Michael Jackson to paint his 1991 Dangerous album cover. I have spent nights reading about the symbolism in that album. We see Michael’s kohl rimmed eyes under Bubbles, his chimpanzee. Glittering lights, cherubim, fairies, bones, insects, and animals all within a rococo design scheme. There were even references to Botticell’s The Birth of Venus, the coronation of King George VI, and Ingres’ Napoleon I On His Imperial Throne. Okay, I’m going to state something for the record here. The bald man on the cover is not Alistair Crowley; a well known freemason. It’s B.T. Barnum. Any MJ fan knows about Michael’s obsession with B.T. Barnum and his desire to create the greatest show on earth; which was Michael’s goal. Okay, I won’t go off on an MJ tangent. The dangerous cover is a separate subject on it’s own but no, it wasn’t full of occult symbolism. Have fun if you want to decode this art work by Ryden.
Mark Ryden’s MJ-Dangerous album cover
Mark Ryden’s Fur Girl caught my eye. What can I say about Ryden that hasn’t been said. He chooses subjects filled with cultural connotation which transcends the Surrealists’ strategies of working on the subconscious & collective memories. Always leaving the audience challenged by unnerving us.
Mark Ryden-Fur Girl
I leave you with a picture or two of Robert’s dog Sophie. She was hanging out in the back of the gallery keeping an eye on things.
I visited William Turner’s Gallery in Santa Monica at the Bergamot Station Arts Center for the opening of Suzan Woodruff’s latest series.We are blessed in Los Angeles. Endless galleries all over our city such as William Turner’s filled with inspiring, thought provoking art.
William Turner has been discovering emerging artists since he was the intermittent art editor for Venice Magazine in 1993. His gallery is known for high quality work from artists such as Woodruff.
I was asking myself are they landscapes, oceans, skies? Her art is powerful and zen simultaneously. Staring at After Jasper long enough, I began to feel emotions stirring up. Woodruff believes colors have psychological dimensions hence the unconscious triggers ranging from sexual to the sublime. Part of the reason her acrylic paintings have a dreaminess to them is she has a special table that lifts and rotates.
James Hayward paints strictly in monochromes for the last thirty years. His art is definitely a case of Less is More, the aptly titled name of an exhibit in New York at the Janis Gallery in the 70’s, which he was part of. While he was in Japan on fellowship he became interested in calligraphy. He uses thick paint and wax to create his paintings.