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 from 1995-2001. 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 Spangenberg
Artwork (Drawing, Painting, Mixed Media)
Susan paints on the floor. She works in whatever materials she can get her hands on. Her medium includes house paint, paper, unstretched raw canvas, wood, pencil, ballpoint pen, ink, crayons, markers, oil pastel, body printing, charcoal, fumage, collage, fabric, painting, photography, film and writing as self-expression, always experimenting and expanding her range.
Susan Spangenberg is an untrained, self-taught artist. She 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. Susan never knows what she will work on next. She goes wherever her mood takes her.
"When I first started psychoanalysis, I remember my therapist 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 Spangenberg
Susan's UNSANE figurative artwork has been described as raw, intuitive, emotional, direct and powerful and been compared to Art Brut, Outsider Art and Expressionism. Her SANE artwork is Abstract. All of Susan's work comes from a personal place.
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' in 1995.
Susan became the main subject of the HBO Documentary, 'The Living Museum' in 1999. 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 twice, punishing her as a result. Upon losing her connection there, she spent ten years in her bedroom rarely going out or making art as her Depression and Post Traumatic Stress 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.
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 as well as the horrors endured in the asylums. 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 therapist, Hubertus for being her lifeline.
She dedicates her work to her late twin brother, Robbie.
“Art allows me to express the thoughts and feelings that terrify me. The act of creating is painful but healing at the same time."