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Susanna Coffey

Susanna Coffey is the F.H. Sellers Professor in Painting at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She received a BFA from from the University of Connecticut at Storrs and an MFA from The Yale School of Art. Her portraits are investigations of the iconic human head. The work is driven by questions about what a portrait image can mean. What is a beautiful appearance? Why do conventionally gendered images involve caricature? Can inchoate feeling-states be adequately portrayed?

Meticulously observed, the works show her face in many guises and locations: under dramatic lighting, highly costumed, inside a studio, within landscapes, forest, places of fiery devastation, and amidst phantasmagoric patterns. Some portraits seem almost entirely abstract with only the barest suggestion of a human face.

Concurrently with the self-portraits Coffey is at work with other themes. One is that of land and cityscapes painted in situ after nightfall. A book focused on these works and related writings by others. Night Painting will be published by Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects in early 2018. In another, begun in 2015, Coffey is painting women artists at work in their studios. These works are her response to seeing that of the forty artists shown at The Gagosian Gallery’s wonderful exhibition In the Studio: Paintings only about three exhibited artists were women.

Coffey’s artwork has been exhibited in The Weatherspoon Art Museum, The Aldrich Museum, The Hood Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, The American Academy of Arts and Letters and others. Her work is included in the collections of The Yale University Art Gallery, The Art institute of Chicago, and the Minneapolis museum of art, among others. Among her awards are The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award. Susanna Coffey lives and works in New York City

Susanna Coffey’s work is represented by Steven Harvey Fine Arts Projects in New York City, Alpha Gallery in Boston and Galeria Isabel Ignacio in Seville, Spain.

Books mentioned during the interview:Three Degrees of Latitude, a curious guide to the natural history of the Pehuen by Jane Coffey and Losing Helen by Carol Becker as well as Men in Dark Times  by Hannah Arendt and  Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang.
Transport oil on panel 2008 12″x14″
Oh Day, Verge and Bow oil on panel 2013 13 Inches by 12 inches
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  1. […] Susanna Coffey is a painter based in New York City. Her studio is located in Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on the Lower East Side where she is surrounded by art and culture. During the spring, Coffey teaches art in Chicago where she is a professor of painting at Chicago Institute of Art. In addition to portraiture, Coffey paints night landscapes. Currently, she is involved in putting together a book of these night paintings. The book, she says, is “a small meditation on night” to which writers have contributed their words as a companion to the paintings. In the current political climate, Coffey says she has a difficult time orienting her work. She is determined to paint her way until she finds what’s next. […]


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