“I’ve gotten to the point where I have full command of my medium,” says the painter. “I have full command of my subject.”
Tayloe Piggott Gallery is pleased to present Full Cry, a select body of work by artist Suzy Spence. Spence conveys a wealth of emotion in her equestrian-themed paintings. 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. The current art world dominated by the art fair was still in its infancy. As a curatorial assistant under the inimitable Marcia Tucker at the New Museum in the nineties, she witnessed the topographical shift, championed by Tucker, from visual gallery to the art museum as a participatory engagement system. Everything was worthy of—and subject to—institutional critique. At the time, she painted faux society portraits of contemporary icons like Princess Diana and Tori Spelling in the traditional iconography of ballgowns and lapdogs (and occasionally populated by impish Disney characters). 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. Spence’s intimate knowledge of the garb of the foxhunt comes from her participation in “drags”, a foxhunt only in name which uses the scent of foxes instead of the living creatures. 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.
Suzy Spence’s work has been covered by The New York Times, Frieze Magazine, Esquire Magazine, Paper Magazine, The New Yorker, and The Independent. She is the executive publisher of Artcritical Magazine. She has received fellowships and awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.