Review of Susan Spector’s New Work at TAG Gallery – August 2023
By Gianna Vargas, MFA, Artist, Teacher
Susan Spector’s latest show at Tag Gallery emerges as a breath of fresh air. Offering a vivid exploration into the realms of symbolism and narrative expression, her prints act as doorways into her subconscious, where viewers are treated to an evocative journey through her personal and cultural stories.
In this series of new work, Spector deftly merges symbolism and narrative. In many pieces, traditional symbols-perhaps rooted in folklore, ancient cultures, or the political landscape-confront the viewer and require attention. In Mifepristone. My Choice, Spector, pairs clinical symbols for males and females with bold colors and a symmetrical composition. There is no mistaking the clear message or her intention.
In contrast, the Homestead series uses the subtle relationship between symbol and story to invite audiences to traverse deeper into each print, unearthing layer after layer of meaning.
Her use of subdued tones entices contemplation. Spector’s attention to detail, the delicate balance between shadow and light, and her understanding of how color can guide sentiment ensure that each print captivates our imagination.
Perhaps what is most engaging about this collection is how interactive it feels. No viewer can merely stand and observe. The symbols pull at the threads of your memory and understanding, urging you to piece together the stories they’re hinting at. This personal engagement, where each observer may craft a slightly varied narrative depending on their own experiences and insights, makes the exhibition a dynamic experience.
Spector also brilliantly plays with scale. Some prints have expansive scenes, with multiple narrative paths possible, while others are focused and intimate, honing in on a singular symbolic element. This oscillation between the grand and the personal ensures the show remains fresh, with every piece offering a new journey.
In conclusion, Susan Spector’s show at Tag Gallery is not just an exhibition but an experience. It underscores the power of symbols in shaping narratives and how deeply personal and universal tales can intertwine. Spector has proven that the age-old tradition of storytelling when paired with the right symbols, remains a potent force in art. Susan Spector’s show is a testament to the magic that happens when symbolism and story join hands, leading us through the labyrinth of human emotion and experience.
Susan Spector Offers Words of Wisdom – by Genie Davis, June 5, 2022 diversions.com http://www.diversionsla.com/susan-spector-offers-words-of-wisdom/
Susan Spector: Sticks/Stones – Essay by Richard Speer – copyright 2022
Within our psyches each of us totes along residues of our past, among them a cache of chestnuts of wisdom imparted by parents and grandparents, mentors and friends. Some are moral injunctions, others insipid clichés, still others homilies intended as builders of self-esteem that wind up undermining it instead. To prepare for her thought-provoking exhibition, Sticks/Stones, at TAG Gallery (5458 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles), artist Susan Spector crowd-sourced Facebook and Instagram to discover which catchphrases from yesteryear are most widely remembered by people across the globe. Combining social and studio practices, she winnowed down the myriad responses she received to a manageable 21, which she used as source material for a suite of text-and-image vignettes in spray paint, acrylic, vinyl lettering, and gold leaf on unprimed canvas. Rendered in a purposefully naïve stick-figure style apropos the childhood memories they reference, the paintings are boldly iconic, chromatically exuberant, and, at the show’s opening, provoked many a chuckle and grin. But for all their whimsicality, many of the works have a wistful quality as well, reminding us how fragile a child’s developing character is, how readily molded and easily wounded. It is this complexity and nuance of emotional tenor that lends these works a heightened poignancy and punch.
Some of the phrases in the series offer benign self-affirmation (“I am at peace with who I am,” “I am smart and powerful”). Some share D.N.A. with the sayings one finds on inspirational calendars and posters (“It’s always darkest before dawn,” “Always come from love, not fear”). But others touch nerves and seem out of date, judgmental, curmudgeonly. You can almost hear them croaking from the desiccated larynx of some stern father or creepy uncle, the priggish schoolmarm, the sadistic coach: “Be a lady.” “Don’t do anything stupid.” “Don’t let them see you cry.” “Get your head out of the clouds.” “Tits out, belly in.” There’s something scolding, chastening, repressive, and chauvinist in such adages. They’re like backhanded compliments, undercutting as they purport to buttress.
For years, Spector’s day job was working in administration and designing curriculum at American Jewish University. Given this proximity to the world of education, she knows firsthand the power of early learning to influence adult life for good or ill. Subtleties of subtext, once imparted, can be devilishly difficult or impossible to unlearn. “Teach your children well,” we are enjoined by the troubadors known as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. But helping young people build knowledge and character is never easy, and our most earnest efforts and sagest nuggets of would-be counsel can play upon our vulnerabilities and score lasting scars across our spirits.
Art at its best provokes self-examination. We smile upon beholding these boldly colored stick figures abutting crudely scrawled text, then discover that our smile has given way to an unexpected lump in the throat. Some of them hit too close to home. That is their power. These deceptively simple paintings lay bare the blades of the double-edged sword. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can harm us too.
—Richard Speer is an American art critic, curator, and author whose essays and reviews have appeared in ARTnews, Art Papers, Artpulse, Art Ltd., Visual Art Source, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Salon, and Newsweek. He is the author of two-dozen books, has curated major exhibitions in California and the Pacific Northwest, and has received curatorial grants from the Ford Family Foundation and the Sam Francis Foundation. For more information, please visit www.richardspeer.com.