Susan R. Kirshenbaum is a San Francisco-based figurative artist whose expressive, gestural work reflects a fresh, contemporary perspective on the female form that captures a moment and reflects an intimacy with her subjects. Kirshenbaum was encouraged early in life to pursue art. She grew up in a family of visual artists who started an art school, the Ivy School of Professional Art, in Pittsburgh, PA where she studied and worked throughout her life. At 15 her father guided the family on an extensive art tour of Europe, initiating a life-long travel bug and love of museums. Since Ivy, she’s studied at SFAI, CCA, UC Berkeley Extension, Kala, City College, and in Girona, Spain.
In 2016, Kirshenbaum returned to full-time art making after a long hiatus, but she never lost sight of art as her center. Her long-time career as a creative director for marketing and branding was closely connected to art. Over the years, Kirshenbaum has exhibited in group and solo shows in Pittsburgh, Sonoma County, and San Francisco. Her works are in collections nationally and internationally. Living and working in San Francisco, California since 1980, she’s taken breaks to live in Hawaii, NYC, and Spain. She can be found making art at her hilltop home with her cats and husband nearby.
My earliest influences come from growing up in a family business, Ivy School of Professional Art. My parents and their friends were artists and educators. In our home painting studio and darkroom and at Ivy I made art, took classes, and worked. Ivy began in 1960 and hosted art happenings. Performance art, abstraction, graffiti, and life drawing were my norm since childhood. My first camera was a vintage Olympus Pen W and when I was 12 I learned to shoot manually and print my own work. My family was unconventional and proud of it.These are powerful forces that make me who I am. Art is one way for me to express my activism.
Most of the art I’m making now originates with my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil stylus as my primary art tools. I start with a digital canvas that I paint or collage and working from a model, I add life drawings. When I finish a piece I either output the work onto fabric, paper, or another substrate, or show it as a digital work of art on a monitor. I prefer a life-size or larger scale and soft-to-the touch fabrics. All my editions are extremely limited.
Drawn from a live, nude, model, my style is graphic, sensual, and fluid. Sometimes it is tongue-in-cheek or whimsical. I create gestural drawings or paintings that convey a frankness and which feel intimate and natural. Powerful women. The women (and occasional men) come across as strong, decisive, confident, and unique individuals – this is my underlying narrative.
I work back and forth using either a monochrome neutral palette with colorful accents or a vivid palette. In my collages I incorporate my photos – which can be quirky, and play with scale, like my black cat in the shower with a figure superimposed. I shoot what I see around me: nature – a field of flowers, clouds, trees; San Francisco landmarks and architecture – bridges, signs, the sides of buildings, sidewalks, neighborhood icons like Sutro Tower; and my travels.
I edit my work vigorously to select just a few pieces that convey our everyday humanity and motivate people to embrace their human-ness. I like to stimulate a response. I want people to overcome discomfort about nudity as long as a nude female body remains controversial. I identify with my models and they become our shared story. My earlier work was more narrative, based on dreams and personal history, and it expressed rage. Now I want to show joie de vivre and a naked truth. It’s important to me to show who we are and to fight to remain uncensored. I want my viewers to be stirred. They might experience a little poke in the gut. To feel the presence of strong women.
My subjects are naked but are completely comfortable in their skins. Are you? Do you want to be? There should be something liberating in seeing my work. Blunt. Nudity is not an issue. Body love is. Anecdotally, people have asked to model for me after seeing my work.
I’m continually inspired by a huge number of artists, living and long dead, famous and unknown, as well as my artist friends. I’m constantly discovering new artists to love, and old, even classical art like Greek sculpture. I’m stimulated by beautifully designed and produced decorative arts, fashion, and textiles, still and moving images, architecture, and the performing arts. I love to photograph patterns, shapes, color combinations, light, and shadow. Living in the Bay Area feeds my soul. Traveling opens my eyes and kindles my imagination.