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