Picture of the Week: Untitled by Susan Hauptman

May 14, 2023

Untitled, Susan Hauptman, 1970, ink on gesso panel, 21 1/2 x 20 1/2 in.

Susan Hauptman is a Michigan-born artist known for her drawings; Her career spanned nearly fifty years. She studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh from 1965 to 1966 and completed her  BFA from the University of Michigan in 1968. She went on to earn her MFA from Wayne State University in 1970. Hauptman has received numerous grants and awards throughout her career, including an artist residency at the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas, CA from 2009-2010, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2009 and 2002, an American fellowship for the National Endowment of the Arts in 1991, a French fellowship for the National Endowment of the Arts in 1985, and the Oakland Museum Artist of the Year Award in 1984, among numerous others. Hauptman also taught as a visiting artist at many notable institutions, such as Harvard University in Cambridge, MA in 1997 and 2000-2002, the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts in 1996, the San Francisco Art Institute, CA, and Wayne State University, Detroit, MI in 1990, among many others. Her work is part of the collections of many prestigious institutions, “including the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, D.C.); the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY); the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.); Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (Bentonville, AR); the Norton Museum of Art (Palm Beach, FL); the Arkansas Art Center (Little Rock, AR); the Minnesota Museum of American Art (St. Paul, MN); and the Legion of Honor (San Francisco, CA),” among countless others. Hauptman passed away in 2015, but she will forever be remembered as a talented artist and educator.

Although Hauptman was interested in figurative work in her early years as an artist, she intentionally avoided creating figurative drawings, “in hopes of better understanding space.” Within her exploration of space, Hauptman in turn gave way to endless possibilities for the interpretations of her abstract drawings. Following her graduation from Wayne State in 1970, Hauptman dedicated the next six years to composing ink gesso line drawings. Every drawing she created during this period is meticulous; as Samantha Hohmann describes them in the WSU Art Collection online exhibition The Fine Lines of Human Identity: Susan Hauptman’s Early Works, Hauptman’s lines “appear less like hand drawn lines and more delicately laid strings hanging precariously off one another.” This high level of detail is a testament to Hauptman’s dedication to her work and to her process itself. The same can be said about this particular untitled ink gesso drawing by Hauptman from 1970. In contrast to Hauptman’s other drawings that are featured in The Fine Lines of Human Identity, she explores the thickness of lines within this work. The various kinds of lines within the composition are in conversation with each other, combining to produce shapes that one might relate to real-world forms. Near the upper portion of the composition, she creates swirls of thin lines that are consistent with those present in her other drawings. These lines culminate in a spherical form, with the free-flowing swirls creating the appearance of what the viewer might interpret as a ball of yarn. In contrast to Hauptman’s other line drawings from 1970, she layers thicker, darker lines over the familiar, thin ones. These thicker lines are parallel to each other, yet they have slight curves to them, mimicking the forms of tree trunks. Hauptman places the darkest form in the lower half of the composition. She constructs this rectangular form with countless layers of ink gesso, paired with white outlines that create an appearance reminiscent of a block of metal. She juxtaposes these forms with negative space on opposite ends of the bottom of the composition; In doing so, Hauptman provides an alternative way to interact with space. Instead of filling it with lines, she allows the empty portions of the panel to simply exist. 

While it may not have necessarily been Hauptman’s intention for us to interpret her forms as a ball of yarn, tree trunks, and a block of metal, her use of abstraction invites a variety of interpretations. Regardless of how one views these forms, Hohmann highlights that interconnectivity plays an integral role in Hauptman’s line drawings; It is this use of interconnectivity that allows her forms to take shape, amongst all the twists and turns of her lines. The variations in thickness, form, and movement within Hauptman’s line drawing also highlight the key factor of change within her work. Rather than one stagnant moment, Hauptman’s lines dance across the panel in all directions, creating a beautifully dynamic composition. 

Written by Angela Athnasios

Sources: https://www.susanhauptman.com/about.html



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