Political issues and social engagement are heavily tied to the practice of present-day artists, but is it still modernistic for artists to create art simply out of the love for creating? While it may not be for her students, the answer is yes for Susanne Doremus and she attests to this through her show on view at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery.
Susanne Doremus is a part-time professor at School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she teaches graduate-level painting and drawing courses. Her work is rooted in abstraction and expressive subjectivity but holds a foundation in drawing that is influenced from the courses she has taught. Her work bears significant relation to the works of Julie Mehretru and Cy Twombly: multilayered, gestural, unbalanced and erratic.
While social and political engagement is exciting, Doremus believes art should also be personal, interpersonal—it can be anything, even portraits of her cats if she wants. For her, art is much like poetry where she creates what she feels in the moment. Doremus’ paintings are mixed media on medium- to large-scale canvas, using acrylic, oil and sometimes various water-based pigments. Graphite and ink are often used for drawing on the canvases, which she intermixes with painted areas. Doremus prints images directly onto canvas surfaces occasionally, working on two or three paintings simultaneously but completing them at different times. Multiple elements, such as lines, scratches, paint rubbing and subtle figurative representations that are typically hidden in her paintings, can be present in her work. Sharp twists and loops are spread throughout the surface of her canvases, thick and thin strokes of lines moving forward and backwards in a frenzied yet free-flowing state with the beginning and end point unrecognizable. Doremus paints with her eyes closed, abandoning her thoughts as she moves across the canvas. There is perhaps no real sense of depth to her paintings but more so a tribute to her moving spirit.
Along with her solo show in the main gallery of Zolla/Lieberman, Doremus has curated “Eye-diolect: Susanne Doremus selects,” which presents the works of twenty-three of her colleagues and SAIC MFA students. Doremus has taught for over ten years at SAIC, and notes that the focus of her students is ever-shifting. Ruth Poor and Latifa Alajlan are among the hand-selected artists, yielding a synonymous style to Doremus while drawing connections to culture and religion.
On display in the south gallery is Ruth Poor’s “Weeds (Jesus Saves)” (2022). A compelling collage painting with a kitschy, melodramatic appearance, Poor uses figurative drawing and hand embroidery to explore intersections between power, Christianity, deviancy and identity by modernizing biblical stories and rural cultural mythologies strategically to accentuate injustices or hierarchy. Poor, who was raised in Indiana, uses imagery of biblical motifs and techniques of embellishments that preexist in religious and historical material culture in an attempt to unhinge the binary connections within moral policing and Christianity.
Similarly, Kuwaiti visual artist Latifa Alajlan’s “Untitled” (2022) is one to note for its composition of graphite, acrylic and oil on linen, with thick layers of stenciled Islamic patterns and motifs that originate from ornaments of mosques in Kuwait. Alajlan’s work is inspired by Kuwaiti culture and biblical culture in which she seeks to encourage conversation between conservatism and liberalism, focusing on women’s empowerment. Alajlan typically uses paint, graphite, oil and earthy materials such as sand clay to teleport back to the development of mosques and other historical sites that may symbolize the patriarchy of male clerics.
Walking into Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, patrons are welcomed easily by Doremus’ work before plunging into the core of “Eye-diolect: Susanne Doremus selects.” The exhibitions offer an enthralling juxtaposition in terms of concept and ideology. The contrast between the two exhibitions ignites the conversation of how, why and what about art drives us. (Hadia Shaikh)
“Susanne Doremus” and “Eye-diolect: Susanne Doremus selects” are on view at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, 325 West Huron #1E, through April 30.