Susanna Coffey

Susanna J. Coffey (born 1949); American artist born in New London, Connecticut. She received a BFA degree Magna Cum Laude from the University of Connecticut at Storrs, Connecticut in 1977 and a MFA from the Yale School of Art in 1982. She is the F. H. Sellers Professor in Painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and currently lives and works in New York City. She was elected into the National Academy of Design in 1999.

Coffey is best known for her paintings of heads―often self-portraits, such as her Self Portrait [Versace [Canal] Scarf]... paintings, this 1996 self-portrait is a frontal view, lit from behind.

Philip Guston conveyed an anxiety felt by many artists living through politically troubled times: “… [w]hen the 1960's came along I was feeling split, schizophrenic. The war, what was happening to America, the brutality of the world. What kind of man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything - and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue?”

Susanna Coffey is a painter for whom the studio drama — constant adjustments between what is literally seen and what is felt to be right for a painting—is a microcosm of “a bigger picture.” For her, the crises at the canvas are not formal, in the way described by Guston, so much as empirical: the existential tension is between a need for authenticity (realness) and an awareness of the inherent artifice of her process at every level, from pictorial conception to painterly application.

... Sometimes, Coffey succeeds in shriveling up to a ghostly, diminutive element you need to look closely to discover: once discovered, her head pivots the image. She becomes like the self-images Raphael or Carravaggio inserted into bigger dramas—[the School of Athens, the Martyrdom of St. Matthew]—looking out, beyond the picture plane, to engage the viewer directly.
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First Collected by

Matthew Cherry


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