Susan Rothenberg is a painter committed to abstract figuration in her more than four-decade career. She is known for the rich painterly surfaces of her work done with broad, strong, energetic brushwork. Rothenberg graduated from Cornell University in 1965 with a B.F.A. She studied at George Washington University and at the Corcoran Museum School in 1967.
In the early 1970s, she was painting acrylic abstractions of powerful horses. These iconic images established her reputation in the New York art world. When these life-size equine paintings were first shown, they caused a sensation because Rothenberg re-introduced figuration during the period of Minimalism. Her six-by-ten foot horse silhouettes were of ungainly, lumbering workhorses. At times Rothenberg would split her horses in two or paint slash marks across their chests or double them to make shadows. Her simplistic, hieratic, singular shapes on canvases without backgrounds were still closer to Minimalism than to figurative art.
Her 1976 “Cabin Fever” and “Four Color Horse” show the transition from her late 1960s nonfigurative art to the more representational styles that emerged soon after. By the late 1980s her signature beasts would morph into other objects or even actions – a frontal view of a horse became a two-pronged shape; hands would appear – disembodied – alongside heads and sometimes silhouetted by smoke.
Never much of a colorist, Rothenberg has always been masterful with a palette of black and white. However, reflecting the hues of New Mexico, where she has lived since 1990 with her artist husband Bruce Nauman, these colors have been supplemented by her rich Indian reds, mustard yellows, and verdant greens. In the 1990s, Rothenberg adopted oil as her favored medium for her paintings.
Her technical use of broad brushstrokes in her “White Deer” 1999-2001 creates a fast and furious action of an animal running, as seen from above. The surfaces of her paintings throb with energy in “With Martini” 2002 and “Yellow Studio” 2002-2003 where she enlivens the ordinary surfaces of a tabletop and the floor of her study. Her paintings from 2008-2009 show the aging body in the form of marionettes’ legs, arms, and heads. Depicting body parts, swinging or suspended by strings, suggests the world of adults as they age.
Rothenberg has participated in dozens of solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums throughout the United States and Europe from 1978 to the present time. Her work is in the permanent collections of more than 40 museums worldwide including MoMA, Art Institute of Chicago, Tate Gallery in London, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.