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

Google, RSM Consulting, E*Trade, EmblemHealth, Alder Biopharmaceuticals, EMD Serono, AKQA, Onsite Dental, Lendlease, The Hartford and Warnermedia. She also has artwork available for sale on West Elm and Way Fair.

Susan believes in transcendence through the arts. She performs as an actor under the stage name, Shyla Idris. She does not have gallery representation. However, she is a member artist with the following organizations:

Outside In, Fountain House Gallery, ArtLifting, We Are Lions and a former member artist of The Living Museum as an inpatient and outpatient from 1995-2001. You can also view her work on Artsy and her joint Issues Gallery Shop on Etsy & Redbubble.

Susan has archived much of her artwork not included on this site on her Shyla Idris YouTube Channel  and her Facebook Artist Page under Photo Albums.


Susan's Artist Statement:

Coming from a severely dysfunctional family which led to group homes and institutionalization in her teenage years, Susan Spangenberg cut her outsider artist teeth at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s renown ‘Living Museum’ art rehabilitation program / open art studio. She was on 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 brutal essence of that genre imbued with a twenty-first century sensibility.

"I paint so I don't kill myself. I create to stay alive. I've been suicidal since the age of three. 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."

Susan's Process:

Susan Spangenberg is an untrained, self-taught outsider artist. She started painting and self-harming at the age of three. She did not talk or communicate effectively for much of her life and that left art as the only healing tool in her very silent world. Susan prefers to create alone in self-isolation. Her work is highly narrative, diaristic and autobiographical. She uses art to cope with the symptoms of her mental illness.

Though Susan has forged a career creating art in many different styles and mediums, she feels she has finally found a style she is comfortable with.

Susan likes to incorporate text and writing into her art, including messages from her late twin brother Robert who died tragically of a drug overdose at the age of eighteen. There are elements of spiritual symbols from her half East Indian ancestry, samples of her psychotropic medication and hand sewn fabric throughout her work. Susan's signature style is her fabric people with button eyes. She works in small and large-scale format encompassing drawing, painting and mixed media. Susan never knows what she will work on next. She goes wherever her mood takes her.


"The writing in my work are like secrets.  Some secrets are meant to be shared, others are not."


"Growing up, my Trinidadian mother would force me to sit and sew nothing into thin air, as a punishment. Now as an adult, I hand sew my art to change a negative memory into a positive one, taking control back from her, while embracing my culture and roots she kept from me, continuing India's rich tradition of women sewing. My mother was very abusive to me in many ways, and would not teach me to speak Hindi. Now, I make something when I sew, and I enjoy it."

"Art is my therapy. Creating helps me cope with my mental illness, and is an alternative to burning myself with cigarettes and cutting my arms. I have always struggled with self-harm." 


Susan's UNSANE artwork has been described as raw, intuitive, impulsive, direct and emotional. Her work has been compared to Art Brut, Outsider Art, Visionary Art and Expressionism. Her SANE artwork is Abstract. All of Susan's art comes from a personal place.

"When I first started psychoanalysis, I remember my psychoanalyst saying that half of me was crazy, the other half sane. We just have to get the sane part of you stronger. So, I decided to separate my artwork into SANE and UNSANE."

Susan's History:

Susan started painting and self-harming at the age of three.

Coming from an abusive household where she was the family caretaker, did not leave Susan any time for herself. The arts were not encouraged at home and she 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.

Upon losing her connection at The Living Museum, 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, alcoholism and tackling the unforgiving secondary diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Susan currently has the diagnosis of Complex PTSD 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 private psychoanalyst, Hubertus Raben, 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.  


She joined Fountain House Gallery in 2015, and found a friendship and connection with it’s director, Ariel Willmott, and so regained a sense of community she had lost.

These days Susan is back to painting, her first medium. She often paints when feeling symptomatic, it is part of her process.


Susan thanks her psychoanalyst, Hubertus Raben for being her lifeline.

She dedicates her work to her late twin brother, Robert.


“Art allows me to express the thoughts and feelings that terrify me. The act of creating is painful but healing at the same time." 


SHOP for Susan's art book on Blurb Books  (published through her friend's account)











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