My last post containing a list of frustrations for painters included a picture of Susan Rothenberg. She was painting from her table that was so encrusted with accumulated paint that it resembled the cascade mountains. This post with the picture of Rothenberg bounced back with a note from a League friend. She asked me if I’d known that Rothenberg had passed away the day before. Maybe the quarantine is taking a toll on me, because I cried as if I had known her. She was a painter I deeply admired. A painter who pushed me out of my biases and comfort zones, possibly more than any other painter. She did not feel distant to me. If I remember correctly, I believe my teacher Barbara Sternberger may have known her a little. She talked about Rothenberg with fondness and respect. The first Susan Rothenberg paintings I saw (in books) were the horses she made early in her career. I wasn’t immediately enamored with them. They seemed so undescriptive and dispassionate. I soon learned that she didn’t paint horses because she loved horses. She’d chosen the horse shape so she could play with composition without being caught up in sentimentality. I noted that decision, and thought it was interesting how a painter could use a subject they aren’t invested in emotionally (previously the definition of “art” for me) as a way to conduct and investigation of painting itself. Later, I would spot the lower few inches of one of those non-sentimental equine ankles over the head of the first family, and I would feel pride. The second work by Rothenberg I saw depicted a figure pouring a bucket of water over themselves. It was like a dream, a memory, a scribbled animation. A blurred sequence of a figure in motion. The lack of descriptive form conveyed a naivete to me, but I could not stop looking at the artwork. Later it would visit me in my thoughts, again and again. The entire picture was moving. It was a figurative painting, but the figure was secondary, barely emerging from the sequence of movements it carried. The painting was about motion. And if it’s about motion, then it’s also about time. I was captivated. Fifteen years later, I still think of this painting. It still captivates me. I haven’t even seen it in person. All this impact from a tiny rectangle in a book! Later, Rothenberg would give me another gift: her memory paintings. In these works, she again challenged my biases about painting. If one is to be a professional painter, wouldn’t one want to learn how to draw a hand? Or at least get a model or some reference photos or something? Once again I was humbled. What’s important in a painting? Did I think every artist needed to pass some sort of human anatomy exam before I could enjoy or respect their artwork? And what if she had drawn them in with more realism? How would the conversation within this painting be different? Susan Rothenberg, Dominos-Hot, 2001-2002, Oil on canvas 73 x 75 inches So, Rothenberg was a vital teacher for me, and a dynamite figure in a world of painters. I am thankful for her challenging gifts, and for the directness of her candor. I am saddened by her passing. Rothenberg on beauty (Art 21) Did Susan Rothenberg challenge you? What are your favorite Rothenberg works? Please respond on this post, or send in your favorites. Tell me what gifts her artwork gave you. I’d love to read your notes.