Suzy Spence

Artist Suzy Spence conveys a wealth of emotion in her equestrian-themed paintings. Full Cry, the title of the exhibition, alludes to the wildly excited cacophony heard when a pack of hounds is hot on a scent during a foxhunt. Simultaneously triumphant and emotive as the sound of the hounds, Full Cry presents the artist’s signature loose, painterly contemporary portraits in sweeps of Flashe on paper, panels and monumental canvases. Touching on 18th-century society portraiture, political imagery, equestrian sporting paintings, and contemporary fashion photography, there is an air of female defiance and haughty sensitivities that feel alive and ghostly all at once. 


A sea of fresh female faces stare directly into the eyes of the viewer, intimating intense individuality and a sense of another time and place, while also of the immediate now. Inky streaks of deep black build intimate portraits of unknown women: powerful, raw, and dressed to the nines, with the playful symbology of whips and tall boots. These females are armed with sultry stares of near military strength. “I’ve gotten to the point where I have full command of my medium,” says the painter. “I have full command of my subject.”


Spence came of age in a wildly turbulent and exciting time to be a painter. The nineties marked a distinct transition from work that was socially motivated and conceptual to an art world that championed painting and painters. In 1996, Spence was given her first exhibition at Colin de Land’s American Fine Art Co., an institution of change in its own right.


Supported early on by de Land and his wife, art dealer Pat Hearn, Spence was immersed in a world that questioned art as a commodity with a striking cast of characters who relished in art, fashion, and blending the two interchangeably. She fit in beautifully with work that rings with the theater of camp and costume and that is deeply informed by her background in fashion. The camp emerges from thematic feminism and its heroines, and her will to subvert the traditionally male-dominated images of landed gentry that famously appear in British boardroom art.


Spence grew up splitting time between New York City and Maine. She is the daughter of painter Marcia Stremlau, who took her daughter along with her to sketch the Maine landscapes. Spence identifies stylistically with the vernacular of Maine artists like Marsden Hartley, Fairfield Porter, Alex Katz, and Lois Dodd. She completed a residency at Skowhegan, received her BFA from Parsons School of Design and her MFA at the School of Visual Arts.