Susan's Artist Statement:

​"My goal in my work as well as my life is to heal myself and save the animals and the planet, while finding spirituality through nature and inviting the viewer on the journey."

Susan's Bio:

Susan Spangenberg (NYC, USA) started creating and self-harming at the age of three. Susan is a self-taught outsider artist. She prefers to create alone, in self-isolation. She uses art to cope with the symptoms of her trauma and mental illness. Susan believes in the power of transcendence through the arts, honoring the process more than the presentation.

Coming from a severely dysfunctional family which led to group homes and institutionalization in her teenage years, Susan cut her outsider artist teeth at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s renown ‘Living Museum’ art rehabilitation program. She was in the vanguard of the 'Girl, Interrupted' female asylum artist wave that has in twenty years become the new normal, yet Susan has maintained the raw essence of that genre imbued with a twenty-first century sensibility.

Susan likes to incorporate text and writing into her art, including messages from her late twin brother Robert. There are also elements of spiritual symbolism from her East Indian ancestry, samples of her psychotropic medication and hand sewn fabric throughout her work. In her Spiritual Fabric Octopus Series, Susan substitutes the octopus for the Hindu Gods as well as Christ. She works in small and large-scale format encompassing textile, mixed media, painting, body prints and dolls. Susan never knows what she will work on next. She goes wherever her mood takes her.

"My dolls are all versions of me."

Susan's artwork has been described as raw, intuitive, impulsive, direct, emotional and whimsical. Her work has been compared to Art Brut, Outsider Art, Expressionism and Visionary Art, creating worlds for her 'Girl In Restraints', ' Asylum Dolls' and 'Spiritual Octopus' reflecting her childhood and psychiatric hospitalizations. In her 'Psycho Slices' and 'Magic Mushroom' art series, Susan explores her ongoing struggle on and off psychotropic medication, her forty hospitalizations in and out of the asylums and the hope that she may one day be able to try psychedelic medication to better treat her symptoms when it is legal in the U.S.

"Art helps me cope with self-harming and suicidal ideation. I paint so I don't kill myself. I create to stay alive. I hope others will find refuge and validation through my work. Though I've been diagnosed with a mental illness, pain is universal. My goal is to not only keep myself afloat, but send others sailing. The text in the background of my artwork is spontaneous and stream of conscious. My writing is like a secret. Some words are meant to be shared, others are not.

In my Octopus Series, I substitute the octopus for the Hindu Gods as well as Christ. I started this work after a vision/hallucination of an octopus being crucified. Later on I dreamed of the Hindu God Ganesh as an octopus. The hand sewn elements is a throwback to my childhood, taking my life back from my abusive mother, who refused to let me sew or be creative. Was it a symptom of my mental illness or was it salvation from God?..."

 

Career Highlights:

 

Career highlights include Susan exhibiting in the 'First European Outsider Art Fair Osterreichische Nationalbibeliothek' Vienna, Austria in 2008 as an artist with The Living Museum, 'NYC Outsider Art Fair' in 2018 via Andrew Edlin Gallery, her first Solo Exhibition 'Escaping Childhood' with Institute of Mental Health at City Arts Nottingham, United Kingdom in 2021 and showing in the 'NYC Outsider Art Fair' with Fountain House Gallery in 2022.

Susan does not have gallery representation. However, she is a member artist with the following organizations:

Outside In, Fountain House Gallery, ArtLifting, The Living Museum and We Are Lions. You can also view her work on Artsy.

Susan's Artwork via ArtLifting is in the Collection of:

Google, Fifth Third Bank, RSM Consulting, E*Trade, Humana, EmblemHealth, Accenture NYC, Alder Biopharmaceuticals, EMD Serono, AKQA, Onsite Dental, Lendlease, The Hartford, Stoneleigh and Warnermedia. Susan's ArtLifting work is also available for sale on West Elm and Way Fair.

Susan's History:

Susan started creating and self-harming at the age of three. Susan writes of her experience, “I could not talk or communicate effectively for much of my life and that left Art as the only healing tool in my very silent world. The Arts were not present or encouraged in my home.”

Coming from an abusive household where she was the family caretaker, did not leave Susan any time for herself. Susan further isolated herself when she suffered the devastating loss of her twin brother Robert, dying of a drug overdose. She did not pick up painting again until her early twenties, while a patient at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s art/rehab program, ‘The Living Museum' NY in 1995. Susan became the main subject of the HBO Documentary, 'The Living Museum' in 1999, directed by Jessica Yu. HBO funded the film based on Susan's footage. Having second thoughts and pulling out of the film led to a rift between her and the program's director, psychologist Janos Marton who manhandled her and threw her out of her studio, punishing her as a result. He worried about losing his position there and going back to work on the wards. There was a risk of the film not being made without her.  At that point the Office of Mental Health and Creedmoor were on the brink of closing the program, until the promise of a film would bring them positive exposure. Mr. Marton felt Susan should sacrifice herself for the other artists there. ('The Living Museum' was the brain child of it's first Director, the late great Polish artist/actor Bolek Greczynski.)

For the record Susan states she was treated well by HBO, and had she not been living at home with her parents, in better living circumstances, she would have remained in the film. It is the hospital staff she had a disconnect with.

 

Upon losing her connection at The Living Museum in 2001, Susan spent ten years in her bedroom rarely going out or making art as her Depression worsened.

 

Feeling a loss of community with her former art program, she turned to acting, writing and film to express herself. So began her journey of socialization and telling her story of physical and sexual abuse, racial identity, growing up with poverty, violence, parental alcoholism and the unforgiving secondary diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Susan currently has the diagnosis of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but chooses to pay less attention to these labels.

 

Failed by the system after forty plus hospitalizations and five suicide attempts, Susan decided to pay out of pocket for a sliding scale psychoanalyst who she says changed her life. He supported her along her artistic journey.

Susan spent thirty years in and out of mental hospitals. Her story is reflected in her work, revealing the trauma that brought her into the mental health system, the horrors endured in the asylums and the insight and awareness that allows her to transcend and heal.  

Susan has reconnected with The Living Museum and will return as a valuable member artist in 2022 with a new director of program. You can come by her studio there to see her work as well as visit her at her home gallery, Fountain House Gallery in NYC.

When Susan is not working on her art, she enjoys spending time with her rescued cat Cray Cray and feeding the homeless cats, squirrels and pigeons in her neighborhood. She thanks her psychoanalyst for being her lifeline. She dedicates her work to her late twin brother, Robert.

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