About the Artist
Susan Hamburger is a New York-based visual artist.
with Lucy Commoner, April 2019
You spent time at the Wassaic Project in their Artist Printmaking Residency in 2016. Can you talk a little about that experience and how it impacted your work?
It was a real privilege to have a skilled technician help me work out an idea in a medium I was familiar with but had little experience using. I was unaccustomed to working collaboratively, and Mike Levine, who was the master printer during my residency, was extremely patient and thoughtful in devising a plan for my print and going through the process with me. The experience piqued my interest in creating further work in multiples and integrating other process-driven techniques with painting and installation.
You practice in a wide range of two-dimensional and three-dimensional modalities and media; your room-size installations and individual works include drawings, paintings, printmaking, sculpture, collage, cast paper and papier mâché pieces, and vinyl decals. How did you develop such broad interests in your practice and what ties your work together?
I like the idea of making one material look like another and of replicating a historic format and giving it a contemporary twist. This has led me to work with a wide range of materials in order to create settings and environments as opposed to making discrete images and objects. Add to that contemporary politics, wealth and status and that links it all together.
Many of your works are evocative of 18th and 19th century decorative arts such as wall treatments, porcelain, furniture, and other design objects that might be found in an upper class interior. Where do you find your inspiration for these pieces?
The imagery I draw upon often comes from museum period rooms and historic houses as well as porcelain collections and decorating magazines we now refer to as house porn. I am drawn to the visual display of opulence yet feel a repulsion towards conspicuous consumption and overt exhibitions of wealth. I suspect this is the result of growing up in New England in a middle class home furnished mostly with beige Scandinavian design.
Your art works exhibit incredible technical proficiency that draws the viewer in, only to find that there is more than the surface beauty of your work to explore. What are some of the political and social commentaries that are embedded in your work?
As an avid radio listener, a lot of the information and news stories I respond to filter in through this medium while I am working in the studio. Although lately I have turned my attention to the environment and nature, I arrived at this through a fairly linear path that started with political, financial and sex scandals, and the environmental disasters that are linked to corporate malfeasance and lack of governmental oversight. Many of my elaborate panel pieces with portraits began as attempts to unravel complex news stories and to outline the various actors. Some of these included the Valerie Plame spy-outing case during the G.W. Bush administration, Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and Goldman Sach’s role in the Greek debt crisis. With the current administration, I have felt so overwhelmed by the daily barrage of lies and scandals that I have chosen to focus on more metaphorical ways to address issues rather than on the bad faith individuals.
In this wonderful installation, Birds of New York, you have filled the top floor of the Wassaic Mill building with exquisitely crafted common species of New York City birds constructed of humble scraps of newsprint. What is your thinking behind your approach to this room and your process for crafting the elements of the installation?
In New York City, pigeons are ubiquitous and, love them or hate them, they are an unavoidable fact of life. While working on a project involving New York City wildlife during the 2016 election, the rhetoric on immigration kept me returning to this idea of native and invasive species as a metaphor, and was my starting point for working on the birds. I based them on a Meissen porcelain collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of beautiful, colorful birds presented in a vertical wall formation, sitting on individual sconces. I thought it would be funny to make my own version with pigeons, sparrows and starlings, and perch them on very rough looking, cement-like platforms, and because they were to be papier mâché, to make them all out of the New York Times. For this exhibition in the loft, they will be liberated from their stands and will be congregating around a central sculptural detail, while some fly in overhead. Their numbers have grown to well over 60, and I hope to create an experience that will make people pause as they arrive on the top floor, if only for a split second, to wonder how birds got in there.
Photos by Jeff Barnett-Winsby