Working across paintings, sculptures, cyanotypes, fragmented panels, and digital prints, Susan Weil oscillates between figurative and abstract elements to contemplate form, perspective, and space. Active since the 1940s, Weil is recognised as one of the most influential female artists of Abstract Expressionism, a movement dominated predominantly by men.Read More
Weil attended the experimental Black Mountain College in 1948, taking her classes under the former Bauhaus academic and artist Josef Albers. She moved to New York a year later, where she was surrounded by early proponents of Abstract Expressionism, among them Jasper Johns, William de Kooning, and Cy Twombly, and leading pioneers in different disciplines of the arts, such as the composer John Cage.
Between 1949 and 1951, Weil collaborated with her then-husband Robert Rauschenberg—also a fellow student from Black Mountain College—to create a series of large-scale blueprints. They experimented with light exposure and the imprints left behind by the human body in works such as Sue (c. 1950), which shows a full-body profile of Weil standing with a cane in her hands.
Weil's approach to abstraction is distinct from her contemporaries in that it readily explores the figurative. Walking and standing figures appear frequently in her early works, such as the rainbow-coloured plexiglass sculpture Standing Figure (1967) or the greyscale oil painting Walking (1969). Other recurring motifs include trees, which often appear fragmented on canvases of different sizes that make up a larger plant (Baroque Tree, 2006), and the Irish novelist James Joyce and his works that inspired a series of portraits and collages.
Weil is also known for her use of an eclectic range of materials that she rearranges into compositions, from metal, wood, and paper to recycled items. In Quadrille (1981), canvases are crumpled and conjoined; the colours on both their sides—black on one side and a primary colour on the other—are visible to the eye. Flexible poplar plywood forms the basis of works such as Bird (2017), where a line drawing of a bird morphs into a sculpture by rising off the surface of the wood.
Cyanotypes and collaboration continue to be key elements of Weil's practice. In 2000, the artist began working with photographer Jose Betancourt to produce blueprints, photograms, and Van Dyke Brown prints that examines the history of photography and the ideas of space and shape. Another collaborative work, Five Generations (2019), spans across several decades, beginning as an embroidery depicting stars by Weil's mother in 1930 and completed by the artist, her daughter, and granddaughter's contributions of cyanotypes and metal cut-outs.
Selected solo exhibitions include Art Hysteri of Susan Weil: 70 Years of Innovation and Wit, an online retrospective exhibition at Sundaram Tagore Gallery (2020); Susan Weil's James Joyce: Shut Your Eyes and See, The Poetry Centre, State University of New York, University of Buffalo (2016); and Poemumbles: 30 Years of Susan Weil's Poem | Images, The Black Mountain College Museum, North Carolina (2015). Weil is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
Weil's works are in the collections of the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, among others.
We tend to think of artists as natural loners, off in their studios, wrestling with their inner selves. But Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends, which opens at the Museum of Modern Art on May 21, poi