In these new works on canvas and on paper, Rothenberg continues to draw her imagery from her physical surroundings in the New Mexico desert. Horses, dogs, snakes, rabbits and humans are featured, sometimes whole, often as fragments or parts. The works on view have richly textured surfaces and expand the artist’s palette of bold purples, yellows, and reds. Sixteen years have passed since Rothenberg moved to New Mexico, and these paintings strongly demonstrate that the landscape and world of the desert, once foreign territory for the artist, have become more familiar.
As Robert Storr writes, “the image in a painting by Susan Rothenberg is the last stage of an incremental process of statement, revision, cancellation, and restatement.” The artist herself has said: “I make messy paintings that often have an image in them that you may or may not recognize.” Indeed, Rothenberg’s active gestural brushwork pushes the boundary between figural representation and abstraction and the results are dynamic paintings that simultaneously deny narrative while at the same time referencing scenes of life’s small dramas.
In her canvases, Rothenberg subverts the traditional hierarchies of people and animals—here, paws are nearly as large as arms, and disembodied legs, heads and animal parts make familiar forms appear strange. A motif of masks appears, exemplifying the visceral tension between the lyrical and the grotesque in Rothenberg’s work. Simultaneously intuitive and emotional, these new paintings demonstrate the artist’s extraordinary ability to challenge and extend painterly conventions with her exploration of light, color and movement.