Biography

Mature years, international (1988–present)

The Long Arm of the Law 1987-88 is the first of a series of assemblages inspired by idioms, where she combines hands carved in wood with clothing and everyday objects. She continued to carve stone and her sandstone Woman Oppressed 1989 was selected for the 1989 Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW.

In 1988 Susan completed her iconic painting The First Supper (after Leonardo’s Last Supper), which was the first of her post-modern feminist interpretations of the masters. When exhibited in the 1988 Blake Prize, the painting sparked controversy and was ridiculed by a critic. This led Susan to take the painting to Europe where it was the cornerstone of her solo exhibitions in Amsterdam (1990) and Cologne (1991). The painting featured in the art journal Kunstbeeld and was purchased by a collector for public exhibition in Germany. In her 1991 World Radio Netherlands interview, The First Supper was described as "a controversial Australian painting, which has found a home and acceptance in Europe”. At this time Susan lived in Germany and The Netherlands for 9 months, also exhibiting in group shows, e.g., Galerie K61 Amsterdam 1991. In 1990 she was fortunate to see the retrospective exhibition in Hamburg of Camille Claudel, whose unique feminine approach and combination of sculpture materials struck a chord with Susan. She also visited museums in The Netherlands that inspired her, especially the Kröller-Müller. Her painting Backyard Gossip in Weesp 1991 is from this period.

After returning to Sydney Susan worked on a circular table painting The Seven Deadly Isms 1992, after Bosch’s The Seven Deadly Sins, which she had seen in the Prado. Her painting was selected for the 1992 Sulman Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. A year later, she painted The Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times 1993 based on the same circular composition where she reversed the traditional sins. The Crowning with Sexism 1994 is a feminist interpretation of Bosch’s The Crowning with Thorns. Susan exhibited in the 12th International Kyoto Impact Art Festival 1991, which was the start of her participation in many group exhibitions at the Kyoto City Museum (1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997) where she showed prints and sculptures.

In 1994 Susan was invited to exhibit in a Foreign Showcase Exhibition in SoHo, New York. In a review of this exhibition, Susan is described as "… an artist equally talented and skilful as a printmaker, a sculptor, and a painter … White's prints carry important sociological messages as exemplified by The Seven Deadly Sins…" [referring to the blockprint The Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times 1993].

Brain surgery in 1996 to remove a deep tumour (acoustic neuroma) resulted in the loss of her right inner ear, causing total deafness on one side and balance impairment. The traumatic experience and slow recovery inspired two self-portraits. Me after Brain Surgery 1997 was highly commended in the 1997 Portia Geach Memorial Exhibition, the judges describing "its complex intensity in using a delicate technique to deal with a difficult subject matter with clarity and psychological insight." During the 1998 National Sculpture Forum, Susan showed sculptures in bronze, stone and mixed media assemblage in an exhibition Idioms in Mixed Mediums at The High Court of Australia.

In 1998 Susan was again invited to exhibit in New York, this time for a solo exhibition ‘Portrayals’ of paintings, sculptures, and prints. One critic wrote "Susan Dorothea White is an extraordinary artist - I have not seen narrative paintings to compare with these in quite some time, perhaps never in recent times." Another praised her "meticulously limned acrylic paintings" and commented on her "most emotionally jarring narrative imagery in recent art”. Following this solo show, the Hechinger Collection (Washington, DC) purchased It Cuts Both Ways 1998. This sculpture was exhibited at the National Building Museum (Washington DC) alongside works by other artists in the Hechinger Collection such as Jean Tinguely, Berenice Abbott, Arman, Jim Dine, Fernand Léger, and Claes Oldenburg. The exhibition, described as “the jewels of the collection”, ran from 1999 to 2004.

In 2000 Susan was invited to exhibit bronzes at Galerie d’Art in Nice [bronzes - Nice]. She also exhibited bronzes at Solander Gallery, Canberra from 1996 to 2003, including The Spirit of the Willy-Willy Wind 1995. In 2004 Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney mounted a special exhibition of her bronzes. In 2001 Susan participated in the 3rd Florence Biennale, where she exhibited two mixed-media sculpture assemblages: Reinventing the Wheel 2001 and Next-Door Neighbours 2000.

In 2000 Susan began drawing human anatomical specimens. Inspired by the convincing anatomy drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and his approach to drawing actual bodies, she drew the prosections in the university laboratory< [Peter's Hand - Gestures of The Last Supper 2007] and anatomical plastinations [Back Muscles (superficial and deep) 2007]. She co-established workshops in anatomy drawing for the public at The University of New South Wales, called Step into Leonardo's Shoes, and taught in these workshops from 2000 to 2007. In 2002 she co-conducted a workshop Drawing on Rodin at the National Gallery of Australia as part of the exhibition Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession. She taught drawing at Grafton Artsfest (2005) and has presented lectures on anatomy and art at UNSW.

The Buhl Collection (New York) commissioned Susan to produce a life-size version in bronze Stretching the Imagination 2005. The same year she was commissioned to write and illustrate Draw Like Da Vinci (Masterless Series - Cassell Illustrated, London 2006) with over 100 of her drawings; the book was published in four languages. The basic principles of drawing are explained through analysis of Leonardo's art – being a left-hander helped her to decipher Leonardo's technique. Her interest in metalpoint drawing led her to invent a technique combining goldpoint with chalk, conté or pastel on emery paper, e.g., Gilding the Lily 2005, Fetal and Adult Skulls Compared 2008, Imogen Drawing 2009, Picking Lilli Pillis, Piper St, Annandale, 2010. The campaign to save Callan Park (Sydney) from building development inspired Susan to create a series of campaign cartoons (2007-8).

A survey exhibition of Susan’s prints Fifty Years of Printmaking 1960-2010 was held at Fyre Gallery, Braidwood in 2010. The exhibition included 66 prints (lithographs, etchings, woodcuts): The Magic Pudding 1978 (lithograph), Goose Camp Kakadu: Moonrise at Sunset 2010 (woodcut). In 2012 she was invited to lecture on anatomy through art and to conduct a drawing workshop at an international conference in Bath, UK.

In June 2013 Susan exhibited in a curated fringe event during the 55th Venice Biennale Sapere Aude – Circuito Off: she showed The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Freeman 2012 and two sculpture-assemblages Lost for Words 2002-3 and Measure for Measure 2001-3.

Now in her 70’s, Susan continues her art practice with works in various stages of progress. Her mother, who died aged 102, inspired the painting Mum's Centenarian Sunset 2013-14 and the sculpture in pink Angaston marble Centenarian Sunset 2014. In 2015 she completed a monumental version in bronze of Stretching the Imagination.

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» Childhood, student years (1951–1961)
» Early career (1962–1975)
» Mid-career to international (1976–1987)
» Mature years, international (1988–present)