Susan Rothenberg ( American, 1945 - 2020 )

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General Description

In Hourglass, a dark, lonely human figure moves in and out of a luminous, ambiguous space, while another spectral figure hovers off to the right, deepening the space further. Artist Susan Rothenberg builds her images with a dense flow of brushstrokes; tones of gray and white create not a background, but a strange sense of location or place. Hourglass contains a continuous play between the abstract and the figural; it is a highly charged place that seems real, but also dreamed.

Rothenberg's paintings of horses, done from 1973 to 1979, established her as a pioneer of the New Image movement. In this now famous series, the profile of a powerful horse, set against a monochrome ground, is sliced vertically or diagonally by one or two rough lines; these lines flatten the horse, grounding it in the canvas. Rothenberg incorporated horses in her work as a way of establishing a human presence without using the human figure. With these iconic images of horses, she not only revitalized the vocabulary of abstraction, but also set a stage for the dynamic interplay of two of the most defining traditions in 20th-century painting: abstraction and figuration.

Eventually, Rothenberg's horses became dismembered, and animal heads and legs began to float freely on the canvas. By the end of the 1970s, she abandoned the horse motif and began using a wider range of images: heads and hands, the human form, boats, swans, trees, and even cartwheels performed by her daughter Maggie. Since the 1980s, eerie floating "human" figures like this—isolated, spare and anxiety ridden appear often in her work.

Adapted from

  • Suzanne Weaver, "Hourglass," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 291.