Focus: Suzanne Paul: The Artist’s Life

My last post closed with mention of a special project I’ve resumed — Focus: Suzanne Paul —preserving the collection archive and estate of artist/photographer Suzanne Paul. Suzy, medical as she is more intimately known, was a friend to many in the Houston arts community during her life and her presence and memory is still strong with those who knew her —even stronger with those she was able to photograph.

I myself never met Suzy in person, though I too strongly feel her presence in the photographs of hers I’ve worked with, and though I’ve never been able to speak with her directly, I’m gathering some sense of the complexity of her person by piecing together the experiences of her life through what’s left in the collected images and documents of her estate.\n\nI know of Suzy that she was given a Brownie box camera at the age of 9, in 1945, and was a natural talent. Some of the first images I’ve scanned thus far include her early Brownie photos and I’m blown away at the gift of her seeing. You can detect the learning curve of her familiarity with the rudimentary camera and the evolution of her compositional measure, but her piercing study of people and animals.. this seems to be innate in the artist, even as a child.\n\nOne of her most proud images, so says her daughter Mercedes, is this image of a family dog on a lawn chair:

Suzanne Paul, Untitled (Dog), circa 1945

Suzanne received her BFA from the University of Houston in 1968 and did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley.

In the 1960s Paul became a political activist for anti-war and civil rights causes. In Houston, she photographed for the feminist magazine Breakthrough in the late 1970s.

In 1976 Suzanne Paul began photographing artists for the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. James Harithas, then the CAMH Executive Director, offered Paul the first solo photography exhibition by a woman at the museum, entitled Suzanne Paul: Photographs. Paul credits this exhibit with launching her professional career. It also happened to be an exhibition during which the basement of the CAMH, where the photographs were presented, flooded during severe weather on June 15, 1976.

Suzanne Paul, Untitled (Flood, CAMH basement), June, 1976

Suzy, naturally, photographed the scene… such was the pursuit of this relentless documentarian.\n\nHer beginning with the CAMH, I believe, was a pivotal moment in her career and in her life. From there she was immersed in an energized scene of her artist and creative contemporaries, professionally and socially, candidly capturing, with the gift of her seeing, key moments that have come to shape the artistic community we experience today.

In intimate and revealing ways, Paul has documented many of the artists, curators, and gallery owners who have shaped Houston’s art scene since the 1970s and 80s. Among the first artists she photographed were Dick Wray, Julian Schnabel, Terry Allen, and Norman Bloom. Later she photographed artists such as Lucas Johnson, Richard Stout, The Art Guys, David McGee, Michael Tracy, Mel Chin, Edward Albee, and Angelbert Metoyer, many of whom were featured in her 2001 Fotofest exhibition Being Human. In addition to her portraiture documentation of artist and long-time friends, Paul captured portraits of Houston curators and patrons such as Jim Harithas, Walter Hopps, Carolyn Farb, Hiram Butler, Alfred Glassell, Alison de Lima Greene, and Edward Mayo, among others.

The collection of photographic negatives, slides, portrait prints and related memorabilia left after the passing of the artist now serves as significant documentary and historical evidence of the community leaders and participants involved in the Houston arts community at its conception and as an affirmation of the health and output of said community. In addition, the aforementioned collection rests as a valuable research resource into the creative, social, and economic climate of the arts in Houston at the time of documentation and is representative of the quality of art production and presentation of art in Houston in the larger context of American Art.

I’ll be sharing a bit more on Suzanne’s history and on the significance of this project to our city at a panel discussion this weekend (Oct. 2, 2pm), presented by the Houston Art Fair and led and moderated by our walking encyclopedia of the Houston scene – Catherine D. Anspon.\n\nI’m honored to be included and to converse with tremendous company, Pete Gershon, Patricia Hernandez, Patricia Johnson, and Chelby King, as we highlight our respective pursuits to preserve our city’s colorful art history.


Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 9.29.16

Focus: Suzanne Paul: The Artist’s Life

Focus : Suzanne Paul: Introductions

I’m sitting in an arts venue which I’ve become quite intimately familiar with over the recent years… Thinking about introductions…\n\nDeborah Colton Gallery is presenting a special pop-up exhibition in between it’s regular program of full scale exhibitions, illness which opens this weekend. The show will be up for two weeks and celebrates some standout moments in the gallery’s 12+ year history, and is the first time that the gallery-sponsored IMAGINE PEACE billboard from artist Yoko Ono will be presented on-site.\n\nI’m in the gallery as I type, in and out of writing and watching this billboard go up, as I begin work on a very special project. In this moment, surrounded by the preparation for celebration and altruistic intention, I find myself thinking of how intricately connected lives and timelines can be, and more faithful than ever that it is by no accident that we find ourselves in our present condition…\n\n\n\nI first saw this billboard while driving along I-45 in 2011. I wouldn’t say I was immediately struck in my tracks, I mean, I kept driving… but it did leave a subtle impression whose rememberance grew, and has grown, over time. The message is an important one and its expression was succinct – simplistic in its sophistication. I can still see the billboard from the freeway now in the vignette of my mind’s eye… And since then I have indeed imagined peace.\n\nLater that year, enjoying a free day with a new friend, I suggested we visit a gallery unknown to either of us, as it was the last day of an exhibitions of artworks by Yoko Ono. I’m not sure what we were expecting to encounter, but what we did take away was something neither of us could have anticipated.\n\nThat visit introduced us to Deborah Colton Gallery’s leader, Deborah Colton, and in the almost-five years since, that friend, Jessica Crute, and I have both worked for a time at the gallery and have also presented the most significant creative projects of our early careers. And for myself, that first encounter was the start of a series of many significant introductions in my life.\n\nIn 2014, as Assistant Director of the gallery,  I worked very closely with gallery artist Angelbert Metoyer in the co-curation and execution of Seasons of Heavena survey of recent works from the career of Angelbert Metoyer. In 2015 Deborah extended to me an opportunity to curate Collective Solid from concept to exhibition for the final iteration of ArtHouston, whose mission was to showcase emerging Houston talent city-wide.\n\n\n\nI must give credit where it is due: in my time working for and with the gallery, I’ve been exposed and come to know some outstanding artistic talent, from across a great many international borders. However, the artist whose work I find myself most sensitive to is a native Houstonian and a pioneering female photographer whose work chronicled the budding art scene in the city in the 70s and its evolution over the two consecutive decades. Suzanne Paul thoroughly documented the artists of her social experience – of her real life – and those influential in our artistic community, and in working with some of the artists she’s captured in my time at Deborah Colton Gallery I’ve come to realize the significance of her life’s work. Through pure creative impetus and for love of her craft and the pursuit of photography, she was able to document a broad cultural aspect of our city’s history. A large part of her life’s work now serves as a resource to draw from, critically, historically, and creatively.\n\n\n\nAt the end of last year, I stepped down from my full-time position and tackled an ambitions special project as an independent curator in partnership with Deborah Colton Gallery to present Proofan exhibition that shared a select few portraits of creatives significant to the Houston arts community and featured some work never-before seen from the archive of Suzanne Paul, which the artist left in the possession of the gallery at the time of her passing. The hope was that the exhibition might pique the interest of our community and ultimately lead to the preservation of Suzanne’s archive and the acquisition of her work by collecting institutions. It also just scratched the surface of examining her unique approach to photography, especially portraiture.\n\n\n\nIt’s funny how one thing leads to another – and to another – and on and on… and here’s where things come full circle…\n\nBecause of the positive feedback Proof received, we have been encouraged to continue with this special project and I have been commissioned by Deborah Colton to pursue this undertaking to ends we cannot yet know. There is a sense that as we work to digitize, catalogue, and archive the collected works of Paul’s, opportunities to expose her work to a broader and growing audience will reveal themselves. This is why I find myself again in the main space at Deborah Colton Gallery, in the beginning stages of a project dear to my heart and dear to my city, entitled Focus: Suzanne Paul.\n\nThis post is the first of many that aims to document this pursuit and shares the unique finds and critical moments we come to in this process, and I hope that a readership develops with me as I look more closely into the treasure left to us by Suzanne Paul.\n\n \n


\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 8.26.16

Focus : Suzanne Paul: Introductions