As co-editor and designer of M/E/A/N/I/N/G—from 1986 to 1996—I had the
opportunity to publish writing by many artists. Editing the writing of other artists, art
historians, critics, and poets gave me a chance to confront opinions other than my own and
to open myself up to their aesthetic and ideological concerns. This constant input of new
ideas challenged me to push my artwork into new directions. At the same time, I have
been involved with writing at a technical level in my commercial work as a copy editor,
proofreader, editor, typographer, and designer for every type of publication from poetry to
fiction, medical journals, university press books, and art catalogs.
But, of course, my relationship with writing goes much further back—from my
avid reading in childhood to studying art history in college. More particularly, after
college, I became personally involved with writers and poets working on the magazine
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E—as its designer and as an occasional contributor. And my
involvement with the work of poets and prose writers extended to attending numerous
readings and participating in many discussions of writing. (I also married a poet.)
Writing has always fascinated me—because its use of language is so different from
the language of visual art. However, I actually hate to write—to me it has as much
pleasure as a trip to the dentist. I've gradually built up my vocabulary as a painter—as my
paintings became a space for a layering of images, marks, textures, and colors. My
paintings are a fusion of disparate elements—an uneasy marriage of abstraction,
surrealism, and popular imagery. In the work of the poets that have surrounded me—I
have seen the same mixtures of collage elements such as the use of quoted material,
advertising jingles, or business letters juxtaposed with lyrical passages and children's
Currently, I'm working on an artist's book to be published by Granary Books in
1997 called Little Orphan Anagram. In it I incorporate Charles Bernstein's poetry
within my collages. This proved to be very challenging, though we had collaborated before
on several books. It is difficult not to be too illustrative, to allude to the poems visually but
not to overwhelm them with my own interpretations of their content. I hope the result of
this collaboration will be an echoing expansion of the language into the visual so that both
are expanded and allowed to breathe.
In painting I adhere to the surface, to the tangibility of paint, the drips, the spatters,
the thickness and materiality of the pigment. I seek the visual pleasure afforded by the
painting process. Each of my paintings is a blank to be mined, layered, and filled—a
battleground of contested contents, a sphere for artistic imagining.
My collage paintings are fueled by a desire to include the ordinary and
extraordinary within the painting, to alter the space and context of the painting, to set up a
disturbance or disbalance, to encode the marginal without eliminating its utility as margin.
The paintings become like a stew of many ingredients cooked for a long time until all the
flavors mingle. The paintings play out dramas and gender roles, psychic states, and
visions. To narrate a story, set a mood, to break out of a role—I see painting styles as
swatches of possibility creating permutations of scale and surfaces.
In Fighting Women, I layered over the 19th-century imagery to bring the
background into the foreground. I cast a net of spun and dripped enamel paint over the
surface to reflect the conflict of the two women. In Red, Black, and White, the
expressions and actions of the characters collaged into this space set up a dramatic and
comedic contrast with the playfulness of the enamel paint abstraction surrounding them. I
believe painting is an inclusive totality. Rather than narrowing my focus, I want to expand
and encompass more. I want to be overwhelmed by the force of paint and the images.
Susan Bee is an artist living in NYC. From 1986-1996 she was
co-editor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G. Her artist's book, Little
Orphan Anagram, with poems by Charles Bernstein will be
forthcoming in 1997 from Granary Books.