Catalog from “Going to Ground” at the University of Tulsa

January 23, 2017


Comments (0)

three degrees of latitude

January 22, 2017

My sister Jane Coffey has a new book out!

Screen Shot 2017-01-22 at 8.33.46 AM


Comments (0)

For WLD at SHFAP January 18 – February 12, 2017

January 16, 2017





works from The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation

January 18 – February 12 2017

Opening Reception: Wednesday, January 18th, 6-8 pm

steven harvey fine art projects

208 Forsyth Street New York NY 10002


Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects presents a loan exhibition entitled For WLD, an homage to William Louis-Dreyfus, an extraordinary collector who passed away in September 2016. The exhibition includes 18 objects on loan from The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation, many of which were acquired by him from Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects. Artists included in the show are: Lennart Anderson, Gideon Bok, Chuck Bowdish, James Castle, Susanna Coffey, Tara Geer, Alison Hall, Kurt Knobelsdorf, Stanley Lewis, Sangram Majumdar, Raymond Mason, Catherine Murphy, Graham Nickson, Stephanie Pierce, Eleanor Ray, E.M. Saniga, Beatrice Scaccia, and Stuart Shils. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog with texts by Steven Harvey, Fred Bancroft, Alison Hall, Beatrice Scaccia and Eleanor Ray. The exhibition has been organized by Steven Harvey and Fred Bancroft.


William Louis-Dreyfus was described by Karen Wilkin in Hyperallergic, “as a passionate lover of art, an eager collector, a published poet, a committed supporter of the underprivileged, a defender of social justice, a lover of trees, an ecologist, a fruit farmer, a maker of excellent preserves, and a plain-spoken, unpretentious man of ineffable, self-deprecating charm – among many other things.”

Dreyfus was born in Paris in 1932. He moved to America with his mother in 1940. He studied law at Duke University. He was the Chief Executive Officer of the Louis-Dreyfus Group. He began collecting art in the early 1960s, gathering works that were diverse yet encyclopedic. Today, his collection includes over 3,500 objects by some 170 different artists. His collection is held in a beautifully renovated warehouse in Mount Kisco open to visitors by appointment. One of the missions of the Foundation is to teach visitors the importance of finding new, emerging, and self-taught artists. In 2014, Dreyfus was awarded the Robert Mills Architect Medal from The Smithsonian American Art Museum. Also during that year he received an Advancement of American Art Award from the National Academy Museum and School.


The works in this exhibition consist primarily of small format paintings and drawings, many of the which were acquired by Dreyfus from Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects. Dreyfus believed in the continuing relevance of traditional subjects in contemporary art including the figure, still life, interior, and landscape. The works chosen here expand the conception of what is traditional and what is new in contemporary painting. They are characterized by the obsessive observational work and a lush painterly quality apparent in Gideon Bok, Sangram Majumdar, Catherine Murphy, and E.M. Saniga. Elements of visionary art are evident in Chuck Bowdish’s tiny figure by the shore watercolor and James Castle’s ragged farmhouse interior. Dreyfus’s interest in contemporary landscape may be seen in Stuart Shils’s vaporous Italian hilltown, Graham Nickson’s early 70’s roman sunset, Eleanor Ray’s snowy window scene and Stephanie Pierce’s fragmentary window sill.


The gallery will be closed on January 20th in observation of the J20 general strike, acknowledging William Louis Dreyfus’s anti-voter suppression activism.


Please contact the gallery at or 917-861-7312 for further information or images.

Comments (0)

Review of “Outside In” in Hyperallergic by John Yau

December 23, 2016


Susanna Coffey, “Late Snow” (2015), spray paint on panel, 36 x 27 inches


“….One of the interesting things about “Snow Blind” is that you feel as if you are looking at something and nothing. Wallace Stevens begins his poem “The Snowman” (1954) with one of the great first lines:


One must have the mind of winter….”


Comments (0)

Outside In: Andrea Belag, Susanna Coffey, Elliott Green, Stephanie Pierce, Eleanor Ray November 30 – December 31, 2016

December 23, 2016


Outside In is an exhibition of five painters whose work explores the tensions between spaces. Andrea Belag does this with a reductive painterly vocabulary, where physical movements of color demarcate one space, and provide entry into another. Susanna Coffey makes portraits that verge on abstraction: melding her depiction of the person with his or her interior life, and a fictional landscape space. Elliott Green’s work is characterized by a feeling that disparate elements and means are combined into an unlikely, but synthesized, whole. Stephanie Pierce shows us, simultaneously, interior space, exterior space, and the in-between of reflections on the window. In Eleanor Ray’s paintings, depictions of doorways or framed views give us access to two worlds, with together feel like a dream-space.

Andrea Belag studied at Bard College, Boston University, and the New York Studio School, and has been a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts, New York, since 1995. She is known for her abstractions where liquid, saturated color is applied with a broad, transparent stroke. She uses a variety of tools, including custom made, wide brushes, rags, knifes, and spatulas. Recently, she has been painting on wood panels, and allowing the surface and grain of the wood to become an element in the work. A solo exhibition of her work was held at DCKT Contemporary in 2014. The title of her painting “Krushenick (After Hokusai)” is a testament to how diverse visual sources and suggestions of varied emotional states can inform one, very immediate, direct painting.

Susanna Coffey studied at Yale University and is the F.H. Sellers Professor in Painting at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. She is known for her portraits and self-portraits, and also works across the genres of still-life and landscape. In recent work, she has utilized spray painting with stencils, to explore the ideas of masking, symmetry, mirroring, and abstract signifiers. “Late Snow” is densely worked, with a blue-white form, textured like snow-covered earth, but also suggesting a ghostlike, obscured head and face. She has been the subject of two solo exhibitions at SHFAP, in 2012 and 2014.

Elliott Green studied at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and lives in upstate New York. He was the G in Team ShaG, a collaborative art trio with Amy Sillman and David Humphrey. But even his solo work can feel like collaboration with himself: as biomorphic forms, knifed swaths of paint, and cartoony, graphite-drawn characters all converge in an Asian-feeling landscape space. Solo exhibitions of his work have been presented by D’Amelio Terras and Postmasters Gallery. This is the first time the artist’s work is being shown at SHFAP.

Eleanor Ray studied at Amherst College and the New York Studio School. She is known for small paintings (often 4 x 6 inches or 5 x 7 inches) of places and spaces she has visited and photographed. The studio of the artist (hers and others – for example, Donald Judd and Cézanne), and the depiction of other art are subjects of ongoing investigation. Her precise, clear mark, and specificity of light, gives the paintings clarity and resonance that extends way beyond their literal size. At the same time, the painterly gesture and the way they are cropped makes them feel like portals into dreamscapes. In this exhibition, she includes paintings of a barn-studio she occupied during a residency in Montauk, Long Island; Iceland landscapes; and museum rooms with Mondrian paintings.

Stephanie Pierce was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and studied at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her paintings — of rooms, windows, textiles, and plants (outside and in) — are composed of a multitude of small marks and shards of color, each one distinct. It is a record of a devotional, patient form of looking, translated into a painterly process of responding, accruing, and removing. The resulting paintings feel like an almost magical synthesis of light, time, place, and surface – shimmering and in constant flux.



Comments (0)

An Interview with Rich Fisher on Tulsa Public Radio

December 23, 2016


Comments (0)

Going to Ground at the University of Tulsa School of Art

November 1, 2016



The exhibition “Going to Ground” includes over 40 paintings from over the past 30 years. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue featuring this essay by Jennifer Samet

Figure in Place: Paintings by Susanna Coffey

by Jennifer Samet


The recent work of Susanna Coffey synthesizes multiple dichotomies, including figure and ground; abstraction and representation; life and death; beauty and violence; male and female; skin and interiority; masking and individuality.


Three paintings in the exhibition are representations of Coffey’s late father.  The earliest work in the show is “My Father is Sometimes a Mystery” (1980). This phrase is scrawled as text at the bottom of the painting.  Her father’s face is shown in a form resembling a waning moon.  The right half is in shadow, melting into dark painting ground. “Edwin R. Coffey” (2003) is a frontal portrait of her father, his head and shoulders set against a camouflage-patterned ground.  The painting “Late Snow”(2012-15), although seemingly abstract, was inspired by a memory-vision of her father in a field.


Other paintings are more oblique, yet poignant references to her father. “Dad’s Camo Poncho” (1999) is a self-portrait, also with camouflage-patterned ground. More generally, Coffey’s explorations of landscape are rooted in childhood experience.  Her father was involved in developing and building roads, so Coffey moved frequently with her family, and wandered through countryside that would have otherwise been inaccessible.


Coffey’s paintings become investigations of the inherent problem of portraiture: the capturing of likeness, versus showing “lifelikeness” – the spirit or feeling of a person. Coffey has continued to grapple with this question.  She has taken it to the extreme of representing person and place in an entirely tactile and visual way — through the matter of paint itself, rather than image or text.  They are metaphysical portraits.


Coffey probes the questions of difference between a person’s external and internal life, what remains hidden from sight, our connections to larger societal identity, what we become after death, our spiritual presence versus our material one.


In the last few years, Coffey has engaged with two media: acrylic spray painting using stencils, and slower-paced oil paintings. Her newest paintings bridge the media.  This is one aspect of the idea of “Going to Ground” (the title of the current exhibition), where portraits are allowed to dissolve into ground and matter – visual manifestations of “dust to dust, ashes to ashes.”


In “Ringers” (2016), Coffey merges the two modes of painting within one portrait.  A self-portrait in a backwards baseball cap is vertically mirrored by a vertebrae-like formation, rising from the more naturalistic head. It becomes the mask-twin to the self-portrait. Coffey used an enlarged ink-jet print of one of her spray-painted, stencil pieces to work from, to create the ground around the portrait, and the mask-twin.


“Late Snow” is densely worked, with a centrally and symmetrically placed blue-white form, textured like snow-covered earth. At the lower corners and sides we see touches of green and red peeking out from below.  The painting has a “spine” – a subtle vertical line of whiter-white.   It might represent a part of the landscape – the top of a small hill, or a path running through a field.  However, the white line can also be read as a nasal skeleton, so that the painting reveals a ghostlike, obscured head and face.


These spinal, vertical forms can be found in several of Coffey’s paintings – the stencil works and also the more naturalistic portraits.  They suggest common markers between human and non-human beings – skeletons, gene structures, and replicating strands of DNA.  They suggest connections that run deeper than our daily lives.


Coffey recognizes that the visual flood we experience in our image-saturated culture puts us constantly in the position of existing in two places at once. Imaging figure and place is an opportunity to be in a place we are not. Here, that alternate place is metaphysical.  It transcends the image we project of ourselves in the world, the surfaces we willingly share, and what we know of another.


Comments (0)

Susanna Coffey on Pierre Bonnard

December 30, 2014

Painters on Paintings Blog | Dec 29, 2014 | click here to view original post


The Terrace at Vernonnet, 1920-39, Oil on canvas, 58 1/4 x 76 3/4 inches
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pierre Bonnard’s painting The Terrace at Vernonnet in The Met appears to be a scene of domestic tranquility and pleasure but if one looks more closely it might give pause. The picture brings us to a summery get together on a golden terrace above a shimmering blue/violet/green/pale yellow landscape. The canvas itself is about the size of a commodious dining table that Bonnard has set up for us, his unseen guests. When I accept the invitation its formal beauty extends, and move closer to this seemingly warm, sensuous work, it’s clear that something much colder is being suggested. While a narrative seems to be implied, it’s hard to determine what the story is. The work’s chromatic structure, gestural facture, loosely interlocking shapes and overall composition feel joyous and lyrical. His treatment of the figures, however, puts quite a few flies in its sweet ointment. Of the six figures on this colorful painted terrace only two are not seen as isolate. The story Bonnard’s characters tell is certainly not a happy one, no joy here. It is a curious work of art, and different from most of the other paintings in the galleries that surround it.

I am drawn to writing about The Terrace at Vernonnet because of its formal and narrative complexity. While it’s not my favorite Bonnard, it is one of his achingly real portrayals of home and hearth. It is also a picture with a narrative that defies an easy read; its formal and iconographic qualities seem to oppose one another. Bonnard’s terrace is a place that is at once both pleasant and unsettling.

Paintings like The Terrace at Vernonnet resist a singular interpretation. In contrast, a very different picture of a terrace hangs not far from Bonnard’s. Monet’s Gardens at St. Adresse (1867) in room 818 reveals a sunny, breezy day on a terrace by the sea. Here too are figures in the painting’s foreground, but this group seems to be on the terrace only to partake of its time and place. All Monet’s iconic and painterly elements demonstrate that the afternoon on this terrace is just as we see it, lots of light, sun and fresh air. People are present but a freighted psychology is not. It is a wonderful work but my heart lies with work that offers a more complicated visual and narrative experience.


Claude Monet, Garden at Sainte–Adresse, 1867, Oil on canvas; 38 5/8 x 51 1/8 inches

In the visual sense alone this Bonnard is illusive. His sleight of hand is that of the consummate formalist. ‘People always speak of submission to nature. There is also submission to the picture’, he said. If one looks carefully, the painting’s elements are cleverly organized, as in a Piero. Oranges, blues, violets, rusts, greens, and yellows are in high key. Pure color abuts, overlays or is feathered into color, with few grays or browns. We can see that the canvas is basically split into two zones, one mostly orangey and warm and the other where many kinds of cool colors dominate. (With all that chromatic contrast a black and white copy of will cause many of its elements to disappear.) Scrubby and semitransparent, the canvas’ facture is underlaid with faint pencil lines, which seem to wiggle up through the paint. One can clearly see the painter’s unique way with his tools; dabbing, scrubbing, coaxing the paint over the canvas surface. It looks fresh but we know that it was labored over for many years.

In the visual sense alone this Bonnard is illusive. His sleight of hand is that of the consummate formalist. ‘People always speak of submission to nature. There is also submission to the picture’, he said[1]. If one looks carefully, the painting’s elements are cleverly organized, as in a Piero. Oranges, blues, violets, rusts, greens, and yellows are in high key. Pure color abuts, overlays or is feathered into color, with few grays or browns. We can see that the canvas is basically split into two zones, one mostly orangey and warm and the other where many kinds of cool colors dominate. (With all that chromatic contrast a black and white copy of The Terrace at Vernonnet will cause many of its elements to disappear.) Scrubby and semitransparent, the canvas’ facture is underlaid with faint pencil lines, which seem to wiggle up through the paint. One can clearly see the painter’s unique way with his tools; dabbing, scrubbing, coaxing the paint over the canvas surface. It looks fresh but we know that it was labored over for many years.


The Terrace at Vernonnet
(Black and White Image)

Bonnard began The Terrace at Vernonnet in 1920 at his home/studio near the Seine[2] about forty miles northwest of Paris. In 1926 he and Marthe Méligne, his model and future wife moved to Le Cannet on the Cote d’Azur. It was there in 1939, thirteen years after he had relocated south that he completed the painting. His northern years saw an affair with Renée Monchaty, a young artist/model, begin around 1918 and end with her suicide in 1925. Monchaty was a subject for several of Bonnard’s works, (most of which were destroyed at Marthe’s insistence). I believe that this affair might have something to do with the strangeness of The Terrace at Venonnet’s. This biographical information tells us that while the artist certainly drew from observation, the facture of memory served as one of his most important sources. The painting lets us know that Bonnard was not illustrating events from his life; it has sources that can be traced but they only lead us back to the work’s mystery.

Domesticity is often said to be Bonnard’s subject. His work has often been derided as not being tough enough to be great (it’s easy to see the sexism behind this categorization). I remember critics like Clement Greenberg[3] and Peter Schjeldahl[4] using words like “limp” (Greenberg) or “fussy” (Schjeldahl). For me he is like a late Titian (think The Flaying of Marsyas), one of the very toughest artists, hard to copy or follow. The ambivalent condition of the domestic sphere is what I see as his work’s subject, like Proust to whom he is often compared, or Murasaki. It seems silly to categorize motifs of home and family as superficial, what would Euripides, Shakespeare, Woolf or Morrison have to say about that? Bonnard’s radiant, lyrical, light saturated composition has all the glamour, tragedy and ordinariness of life as lived. Why would a Picasso admire a Bonnard, who paints a world without heroes?[5] Bonnard’s edenic scenes seem in perpetual, undramatic states of rising and falling, at once lucid and obscure. Like Picasso, his muses were often women. Bonnard’s muses, however, inspired very different protagonists, ones usually submerged in and obscured by the places in which we find them.

Who hasn’t experienced an “at home” like The Terrace at Vernonnet? Perhaps on a sunny summery day we are invited to an intimate get together on the warm veranda of a golden house surrounded by woods, rivers and fields. But after we arrive and look around we may start to wonder. Are these people as inviting and lovely as this place? OR is it also possible that we are entering into a Long Day’s Journey Into Night kind of afternoon? Are my hosts really enjoying this luminous day? It’s hard to say, since it’s not so easy to approach this group. All of them are standing behind both table and tree. The view from our side of the big mauve tree is somewhat voyeuristic. And let’s see, of the six figures on this terrace only an indistinct couple towards the left are engaged with one another. What’s up with the other four? The tiny man in green/blue (Bonnard?) is standing on the far end of the porch, he faces outward (at us?) and there is no sign that he is interested in anyone within this ménage. A woman, the largest most central figure (our hostess?) stands in the shade behind a light dappled table. The tree’s violet trunk bisects the whole of this scene from top to bottom and separates her (as well as the other female figures) from the tiny man and the couple. She and her dress are reddish and orange like most of the house and deck, but darker. Set off by the deep blueish shrubbery behind her, her torso almost seems to be set upon the orange dish before her. Her lower body can’t be seen at all; at this party we can’t see anybody in full figure.

Right in front of us at the canvas’ center is a round table, its blocky shape measures about half the width of the whole picture. The table is empty except for a platter of fruit (peaches and green figs or grapes), a small blue dish (that anchors the composition’s lateral center), a dark green bottle and a few blue grapes. Where are the glasses? Plates? No drinks for us I guess! Perhaps we have missed the cocktail hour? Alone, the woman at the table faces forward but like the mysteriously tiny figure in the background, she is focused neither on us nor anyone else here. She seems to be in her own world. And what is she holding in her hand? It could be a piece of fruit but it also might be a ball, which would perhaps explain the tennis racket I think I see in the upraised hand of the figure furthest to her right. Or is it a hatchet? That figure, also in a golden orange light is said (on the wall label) to refer to The Dying Niobid [6]. (In other works of his, like The Red Flowers of 1927[7], that same reference is apparent.) I’ve also read that this pose is transcribed from The Louvre’s Roman statue of a soldier slaughtering a Gaul[8]. In any case, death may be lurking about our golden girl. To the right of our hostess and turned toward her, is a smaller woman dressed in dark blue holding a basket of purple plums at arms length. She bends over the basket (which one might notice could nicely contain our hostess’ head). Almost fading into mottled blue/green foliage, she is not going to look at us or at her fellow guests. Maybe she is just passing through, exiting stage left? or will she offer her fruit to the woman at the table? It’s not clear what she offers but if we want anything to eat she might be our only hope.

Most puzzling of all is our racket-wielding figure. She is positioned behind a bench that angles in from the lower left corner and in front of a wall that almost reaches the top of the painting. Perhaps a youngish woman, and looking very much like Bonnard’s portraits of Renée, she too is dressed in orange.[9] Her amber coloration is so like the hue of the wall that she could be seen as transparent. Torso poised at an angle, she seems to be moving towards the left; an upraised arm seems ready to strike out with whatever it is she holds. But who or what is within her reach? If she is aiming her tennis racket where could the ball be? Let’s just stay out of her way! Whether inspired by Niobid or a Roman warriorette there is violence in the history of her pose.

There are two more figures to be seen. They can be found beyond the terrace and fields behind the garden’s slender reddish tree. Almost obscured within the silvery-yellow band that is the river Seine we can glimpse these miniscule boaters who are too far away to be guests at the party. One might even envy their peaceful location within this scenario. Shall we stay? It is such a beautiful place; the house and grounds are gorgeous, breathtaking really. However, my guess is that our chances of having a good laugh, making a new friend, indulging in a good feast or engaging in sparkling conversation are pretty slim. Even on such a lovely day it’s hard to predict how things might go.

2.OhDayVerge&Bow,14_x12_,Acryl_panel,'13,2copy copy

Susanna Coffey, Oh Day, Verge and Bow, 2013, Acrylic on panel, 14 x 12 inches
Private Collection

[1] Terrasse, Antoine, Bonnard: The Colour of Daily Life, London: Thames & Hudson, 2000 p.107

[2] (

[3] Greenberg, Clement, “Review of an Exhibition of Pierre Bonnard” The Nation, 12 June 1948

[4] Schjeldahl, Peter, The Village Voice, 28 July 1998

[5] “Don’t talk to me about Bonnard,” he once said. “That’s not painting, what he does. He never goes beyond his own sensibility. He doesn’t know how to choose. When Bonnard paints a sky, perhaps he first paints it blue, more or less the way it looks. Then he looks a little longer and sees some mauve in it, so he adds a touch or two of mauve, just to hedge. Then he decides that maybe it’s a little pink too, so there’s no reason not to add some pink. The result is a pot-pourri of indecision. If he looks long enough, he winds up adding a little yellow, instead of making up his mind what colour the sky really ought to be. Painting can’t be done that way. Painting isn’t a question of sensibility: it’s a matter of seizing the power, taking over from nature, not expecting her to supply you with information and good advice … that’s what I hold against Bonnard. I don’t want to be moved by him. He’s not really a modern painter: he obeys nature; he doesn’t transcend it.” Francoise Gilot Life With Picasso McGraw Hill 1964

[6] Dying Daughter of Niobe (Niobid), c. 450-440 BC, Rome Museo Nazionale, Palazzo Massimo. Found (1906 ?) on the Esquiline, Rome

[7] The Red Flowers, 1927, Oil on cardboard, Private Collection

[8] Hyman, Timothy, “Bonnard” World of Art, Thames and Hudson 1998, p113


“Arrogant Purpose, 1945-1949,” The Collected Essays and Criticism Vol 2‬, University of Chicago Press, 15 Feb 1988.
Greenberg, Clement. Review of an Exhibition of Pierre Bonnard.” The Nation, 12 June 1948.
“Review of an Exhibition of Pierre Bonnard, and an Obituary of Arnold Friedman,” The Nation, 11 January 1947.

Comments (0)

Video interview with Susanna Coffey

February 9, 2014

Gorky’s Granddaughter | Jan 26, 2014 | click here to view online

Comments (0)

Hyperallergic Review

February 9, 2014

The Power of Three Small Paintings

Hyperallergic | Feb 3, 2014 | by Peter Malone

Susanna Coffey’s paintings at Steven Harvey Fine Arts Projects make such leaps in appearance from one to the other that the installation at first sight resembles a group show. Known for her self-portraits, Coffey has apparently been subjecting her signature stare to a variety of technical and formal innovations. “Sharon’s Potion’s Breath” (2011) stands out.

Its image appears as a cluster of overlapping arcs ranging from iridescent yellows to blues and violets that together outline a skull-like visage in the upper half of the panel. The warm light it creates then sinks into the cooler spectrum below, suggesting along the way a pair of shoulders supporting the head. I was able to spy a secondary face in the lower section — only with the kind assistance of the gallery director — defined by a bluish light emanating irrationally from the warm glow above, the two occupying a strangely contradictory place, like a “hallucination,” as Jennifer Samet puts it in the accompanying catalog essay.

Comments (0)