Susan R. Kirshenbaum

art and life - both the cherries and the pits


Susan Kirshenbaum1 Comment

Excerpted from: ART TALK FEBRUARY 23, 2019


I gave an art talk on 2/23/19 at SFWA Artist Salon Gallery. The exhibition closes soon - see it through March 1, 2019.


What drives me to create this work? When I was younger, I thought the world was progressive, moving forward, never backward.

Maybe four years old doing what makes me happiest. Sitting at the window drawing.

Now I’m both astonished and delighted that at long last there is another wave of increased awareness about the ongoing exclusion and mistreatment of women.

As a young person growing up in the 60s through the 80s I watched and participated in a wave of progress in human rights. Not knowing better, I believed that political and social change are continuous and progressive.

Drawing on the front stoop in Pittsburgh, PA, around 1961.

I thought with the women’s movement that our progress was leaping ahead and my generation would at last achieve equality - that the world would not judge us by our bodies and treat us like second-class citizens. I was wrong. Now I know this is not so. But I see now that the old cliché one step forward two steps back is apt for much of life and obvious in our political climate. This is why resilience is so important.

The fight is still on and there is renewed energy. I continue to play my part through my art.

At Miami Art Basel in 2017 wearing one of my handmade art dresses.


Three years ago I began this new phase of life as a full-time visual artist. I realized "It's never too late to do what you really care about - and it's important for me to create lively, provocative art".

The work on these walls (in the SFWA Artist Gallery exhibition) represents three series over several years. The first was the Silk Scroll series of seven scrolls (White and Color Block).

The Laundry Gallery: First exhibit of all of the Silk Scroll Series

“Red Hair Curly and Straight” white silk scroll - I have thing about hair…

“Red Kimono” from Color Block Silk Scroll Series (created at the same time as the White Silk Scroll Series).

“Reaching” from the Color Block Silk Scroll Series

Next came the site-specific series of five “Banderas” (flags in Spanish) .

Troll House Reception 2017

And most recently I produced the Life Squared series of small works on paper in shadowboxes, often they are collages and/or mirrored images.

One of the walls in the show at SFWA

One of the walls in the show at SFWA


All of my work is purely figurative and unashamedly feminist. It’s about women, reclaiming our bodies, being proud and self possessed. It’s straightforward yet open to interpretation. My drawings are brisk, bold, gestural works made from short poses. I’m inspired by my models.

Here’s the graffiti I shot in Spain before it became a layer in the collage to the right.

Here’s the graffiti I shot in Spain before it became a layer in the collage to the right.

Left side of a planned diptych collage - not in print yet

Digital collage: produced in 2 unique editions: a metal print and a print on paper in a shadowbox.

Right side of a diptych collage - not in print yet

Golden Gate Bridge up close and a collage layer.

Golden Gate Bridge up close and a collage layer.

I often make multiple versions from one original. I choose the best of the bunch or there may be several editions that spring from the initial drawing. This is one way that I make the most of the digital drawing process and my need to experiment and see my options.

Every February I watch for the first signs of spring in Golden Gate Park (SF) such as the magnolia trees in bloom. Nature is often a theme in my work.

Every February I watch for the first signs of spring in Golden Gate Park (SF) such as the magnolia trees in bloom. Nature is often a theme in my work.

Original version without magnolia tree

Version as a single figure collage

Version as a single figure collage

Collage version with magnolia tree

This version becomes a pattern collage

Version as a single figure collage

Original drawing before multiplying

Original drawing before multiplying

Original drawing before multiplying

Two titles: “Head Butting” and “Let’s Put our Heads Together”

My Valentines day 2019 image

“Leafy Dreams” collage is a popular piece in the show

“Skeletons” - an example of multiple images also in the show


That’s me teaching in 1978 at Ivy School of Professional Art.

The impetus for being an artist goes way back. I’ve always drawn people. From paper dolls to life drawing, my singular interest and focus is figurative. And I enjoy using all sorts of mark-making materials. I think I’ve tried just about every tool and technique out there. In fact the first art class I ever taught was called Marks on Paper to teach freshman art students about the many ways of using of art supplies and found materials.

Weekend at Kala making silkscreen prints in 2017 - I still like to explore all methods and mediums. My work sometimes looks like it was silkscreened.


As a creative director for many years I built campaign after campaign with teams of creatives. I conceived ideas and explored what words, images, and designs had the greatest impact. But I was not hands-on nor a techi.

I came around to using professional digital drawing tools for practical reasons. Without hauling around a car-load of art supplies I could switch from one tool or medium to another instantly. These are called “digital originals”. My process is the same for each piece, since I always start by drawing a live model.

Original - Version 1 in the “Tami Series” 2019

“Tami Series: 3x”, 2019

David Hockney made digital art and process videos famous. I too can add, test, and remove layers and lines. I can include my photography so that the work becomes a collage. I can make multiple iterations and series, like monoprints.

Sarah - original v1

“Obfuscated” - v3

“Obfuscated” v2

“Obfuscated” - v4

I edit my work, scale it, and apply my artwork to a variety of substrates, from tiny to huge, and paper to fabric and metal. It’s important to experiment.

The Laundry Gallery SF 2016 - a dialog about art at a wine tasting meetup at the gallery.


The grand scale of these works makes the space feel alive with the figures. The fluidity of the fabric combined with the movement reflected in the drawings helps produce this life-like feeling, although the drawings are not intended to be realistic. They are meant to convey a personality and a relationship. They are not “model drawings” but more of a conversation with an individual.

A “digital original” drawing for the Banderas series.

A “digital original” drawing for the Banderas series.

This sheer series is meant to hang from the ceiling in an overlapping cluster

Production: Sewing the edges of the Banderas series

Production: Sewing the edges of the Banderas series

Production: Creating the Silk Scroll series in an upholstery studio

Production: Creating the Silk Scroll series in an upholstery studio

The “Banderas Series” at Radian Gallery in 2018

The “Banderas Series” at Radian Gallery in 2018


When I originally created the Banderas series it was for a site-specific installation in response to my residency at the Troll house.

I needed to express and insert a strong female presence – to take up space and touch the tips of a tall person’s head – to have an impact on the young male residents of this co-work space in Pier 26.

Jack hanging the Banderas Series in a Pythagorean Triangle

Adam demonstrating the height of the Banderas

The arrangement of the five translucent banderas hanging from the ceiling creates a play of color, light, and shadow from the inside and the outside. Passersby could see this show while walking along the Embarcadero. The light filtered through the sheer chiffon and shifted the colors as they overlapped. I’d love to create a version of these pieces for an even larger space on a grander scale in a public building.

The installation at the Troll House on Pier 26

Besides light and shadow and content and form, color is a key factor in my work. I am in love with color!

From my Spanish Graffiti Series

A collage with my own textile art as a layer

From my Spanish Graffiti Series

Multiples and mirror images in a new series


When I create collages I combine my drawing with my photographs and painting to create a rich, layered affect. I continuously change the layers, photos, and colors until I’m satisfied. I’ve been photographing for decades, especially when traveling but now I have a place to include these images as part of a bigger picture.

Always photographing gardens you can see the flowers here.

This turned into fairy princess twins - harkening back to my youthful fantasies

This collage combines a photo of Spanish graffiti art that is also a sign for a shop.

Note that the background image matches the stance of the model.


Now some of my work is outright political and maybe even a little subversive, such as my “Burma Series”. This series comments on religious oppression, targeting a group of people as “the other”, and massive ousting of the Rohingya people by the Buddhist majority.

I photographed ancient temple walls in Bagan, Burma.

Aluminum dye-infused archival print, ed. 1/1 , 20 (w) x 25 (h) Burma Series

I have a series that features the struggle for Catalan Independence too. I spend a lot of time in the region and know it well, so I have conversations about the topic frequently. Most my work is not obviously political but still attempts to illicit a response.


Backsliding, covering up, and our hard-won battles are still coming undone. Every expose is important for building a case to protect women from religious, sexual, political, social oppression, and abuse. We are all humans and we are all equal, naked, and striving to be free.

My work celebrates women.

I will see my narratives grow into gallery-size installations. In my upcoming art residency I have space to expand my scope, scale, and impact.

Catalan independence poster in Girona, Spain

“Filled with Poppies” -a California version of the collage above right.

Collage with Catalan poster changes the meaning