Oil painting of a girl
Featured Artwork: Su Su presented by The Bennett Prize

Bed Straw
By Su Su
Oil on canvas, 2020
42 x 36 in.
Available through the Muskegon Museum of Art

Su Su merges figurative realism with surrealism in an exploration of cultural and self-identity in the ever-shifting landscape of popular culture and consumerism. Working primarily from self-portraits, the artist creates a persona that is “naïve and soft but fully in control of her sexual power.” In her vibrantly colored paintings, context is stripped away (mirroring her first experiences with American popular culture in her native China) leaving the viewer with a charming, “nymph-like” figure in a playful, sexualized atmosphere. Beneath these performative scenes simmers a disquieting reminder of the dangers to self and cultural identity in conforming to the on-trend and overtly commercialized identities unrelentingly offered by mainstream culture.

The figure in Bed Straw appears amidst a swirl of floral and cartoon elements, as objects break down and reform within the picture plane. Her face is calm amidst the chaos, the only action the tugging of her hair, which itself has become a part of the tangle of light and pattern. A cartoon cat and dog merge and explode at her breast, stand-ins for the ubiquitous nature of animated characters in popular culture around the world. Characters such as these adorn clothing and other personal items, identities that can be taken on and off at our whim. High key color in the floral elements, brilliant oranges and yellows, and a small but radiant sun convey heat and intense growth, a renewal or perhaps transformation for the woman within. Within the intensity and glamour of popular culture, what emerges in the search for self?

Su Su was born in Beijing, China and today lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She began studying art at the age of 12, at the Central Academy of Arts & Design in Beijing. A scholarship took her to Carnegie Mellon University where she received her MFA in 2015 and now serves as a guest professor. Su Su exhibits her works nationally and internationally, including recent solo and group shows in Pittsburgh, Denver, Chautauqua, and in the “State of the Art 2020” exhibition at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Susu was nominated for Pittsburgh’s Emerging Artist of the Year (2017), the Eben Demarest Trust Award (2018), and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award (2019) and her works have appeared in the publications Juxtapoz, Artpulse, and Galerie.

Three works by Su Su, including Bed Straw, will be featured in the upcoming traveling exhibition “Rising Voices 2: The Bennett Prize for Women Figurative Realist Painters” premiering at the Muskegon Museum of Art from May 28 to September 5, 2021. Inquiries about the paintings can be directed to the Muskegon Museum of Art.

You can learn more about the artist at her website at www.artbysusu.com and follow her on Instagram at paintingsbysusu.