Susan Rothenberg’s Rugged Paintings Made Her One of Today’s Most Fearless Artists

Susan Rothenberg, White Deer, 1999–2001.©2020 SUSAN ROTHENBERG/ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK/COURTESY SPERONE WESTWATER, NEW YORK/MODERN ART MUSEUM FORT WORTH, TEXAS

In an interview a few years ago, the artist Susan Rothenberg said she had just read that a group of ravens is called an unkindness. She thought it an unfair characterization because ravens, to her mind, were “great. They do somersaults in the air. They play. They chase hawks away. They do so many things.” She and her husband, the artist Bruce Nauman, regularly saw those famously fickle creatures at their ranch in Galisteo, New Mexico, and they’d earned enough of the birds’ trust to be able to walk up to them, though not to touch them. “It’s like having an unpettable pet around,” she said.

Rothenberg, who died earlier this week at 75, spent her life making raven-like paintings: rugged and raw, they beguile but never let you cozy up. She channeled animals (a category that includes humans) with a gimlet eye and without judgment, transmuting them into psychic and symbolic forces.

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