Focus: Suzanne Paul: Later in the Artist’s Career

Digging into an artist’s archive is… well, viagra sale it’s so, so interesting. #nerdalert.\nThis project has definitely invited more \”story time\” into my life – and I do love story time.\n\nI continue to scan images and am still coming across some surprising moments and some real characters – artists –  who Suzanne photographed so many years ago. I’m eager to learn more about the shows that Suzanne participated in and what the exhibitions themselves tell us about Houston/Texas art history.\n\nTo continue where my last post left off, this project has me while scanning images also reading press articles on Suzanne’s solo exhibitions and organizing postcards and exhibition flyers and catalogues as well.\n\nIn the mix of documents Suzanne saved I found this statement from the late Walter Hopps – former director of The Menil Collection – who sat for a portrait session with Suzanne:\n

\”Suzanne Paul should now be recognized as one of the finest photographers to come out of Houston. Her essential medium is black and white photography and her most important subject matter is portraiture. The portraits in this exhibition largely focuses on people associated with the arts of Houston or those who pass through.

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Not all photographers are skilled printers of their own work. Paul is a superb printer achieving areas of deep black in line with her instinct for chiaroscuro lighting of the subject.

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Having been the subject of one of Paul’s portraits, I have experienced the directness and honesty of her work. She has caught an unidealized view of who I am.\” – Walter Hopps

\n\n\nAn enigmatic portrait of Walter Hopps was included in Being Humana solo exhibition of portraits curated by Clint Willour, then Executive Director/Curator at the Galveston Arts Center, for Fotofest in 2001. Being Human collected and presented together over sixty black and white portraits of Houston-based artists, curators, and art patrons photographed by Paul and was one of the largest presentations of her portraiture in the entirety of her career – most of the images never having been shown before. The selection of images in Being Human heavily relates to our project in it’s current phase as we’re prioritizing the images that document our art History and many of the same were included in the Fotofest exhibitions. Too, the work presented was standout and spirited.\n\n\n\n

\”Suzy Paul [had] a remarkable way of capturing the spirit and soul of people with her camera,\” wrote Willour. \”Her work is truly about being human… Throughout her career, it is her black and white portraiture work that I think has been her greatest strength as an artist. That is why we [focused] on this work. Suzy [captured] people’s humanity, whether it [was] people she [knew] or discovered subjects.\”

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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, and Angelbert Metoyer, many of whom were featured in Being Human and subsequent exhibitions A Moment in Houston and Proof. Alongside the artists in the collection of photography we are working with are Houston curators and patrons such as James Harithas, Walter Hopps, Hiram Butler, Alfred Glassell, Alison de Lima Greene, and Edward Mayo. Being Human was an important contribution to Houston’s history, documenting a significant period of time in the development of Houston’s art community and the two most recent exhibitions of Paul’s work, mentioned above, continue that dedication to this documentation.

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From the Proof curatorial statement:

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\n\n\”The collection of photographic negatives, slides, prints and related memorabilia from this work, left in the possession and care of Deborah Colton Gallery at the artist’s passing in 2005, now exists as evidence and affirmation of the health, vitality, and creative vigor of Houston’s alternative arts community from its early years to its present state. Emerging as a study of the present through the past, Proof surveys this body of documentary photography and portraiture, highlighting the artist’s extraordinary talent in capturing unfiltered impressions of her subjects, while offering an intimate glimpse into her creative praxis.\n\nThe multi-entendre title of the exhibition assumes its designation, in the first place, from the presentation of ten selected enlargements of the artist’s proof sheets from the chemical darkroom. The contact proofs expose in revealing ways the artist’s process of portrait-making, editing, and darkroom printing while demonstrating the gifted manner in which Paul was able to relate to her subjects.\”\n\n

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\nRecontextualizing Suzanne Paul’s photography of Houston arts and artists, Proof actively acknowledged the recognizable talent of key figures that represent the arts in Houston in the national and international arenas. In reviewing this selection from this artist’s photo archive, it becomes very clear that there are hidden gems, many never before seen, to share across generations. We find left to us a treasure of brilliant images, an invaluable resource for our community that testifies to the artistic climate that has emerged and evolved in the city since the creative boom of the 1970s — preserved for us by one of its most dedicated participants.\n\n\n

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\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 11.18.16

Focus: Suzanne Paul: Later in the Artist’s Career

Focus: Suzanne Paul: The Artist’s Early Career

The end of October finds us refocusing our project and prioritizing foremost images of Suzanne’s that document the art history of our city. This may seems like a no-brainer, prostate but there are a number of series or bodies of work in her archive beyond her documentary portraiture of artists and art patrons in Houston, most of which have never been seen by a public audience.\n\nI think it’s important to highlight about Suzanne Paul that she wasn’t simply a documentarian. She was an artist in the true sense of the world – obsessed with her craft and immersed in the creative potential of her everyday experiences.\n\nWe don’t just want to organize her archive to create a resource of documentary images – we want to expand upon the career of the artist and continue to offer her work to the public through exhibitions and multi-media presentations of her work. Thus, as I scan images from the photographer, I’m also piecing together her history as an artist, which includes reading about the exhibitions she was included in and archiving exhibition related documents.\n\nI shared a little bit of this info in the panel discussion I recapped in my last post, but I’d like to take a more in-depth look at Suzanne’s early career not only as a picture-taker, but as an exhibiting artist, though the two certainly do go hand-in-hand.\n\nThe beginning of this overlap between an artist’s career and that of a professional photographer is rooted in her relationship with the CAMH and with Jim Harithas that auspiciously begun in 1976. As I’ve written about before, Jim offered her a solo show but also commissioned her to photograph artists and exhibitions presented by the CAMH. The images from that period of her life and career I do hope we recover in this Focus project, but perhaps that’s for another post.\n\nWhat is interesting is that we can see the results of the unique synergy around her CAMH life and that she continued to photograph, as she had as a child, the parts of her life with which she was most familiar. Thus, we have this body of artist portraits we’re focusing on at the moment. Much lesser known, however, are the exhibitions in which she participated in at the CAMH, as an artist, and some of here later inclusions in exhibitions and publications, locally and nationwide. In this post I’ll highlight select exhibitions in Suzanne’s early career.\n\n\n\nI’ve shown a shot of Suzanne’s 1976 solo exhibition in the basement of the CAMH in an earlier post. The exhibition, Suzanne Paul: Photographs, was scheduled for May 21 – June 15, 1976, during which the museum flooded. This was in fact the first solo presentation by a female photographer at the museum – a standout moment for Suzanne and more broadly for female photographers at large.\n\nIn 1979 Suzanne was included in a group exhibition at the CAMH, FIRE!, which was curated by Texas great James Surls, friend, contemporary, and photographic subject of Suzanne’s. FIRE ambitiously collected and presented the work of 100 Texas artists. The catalogue for this exhibition is a huge resource to me – not only does it detail the context of Suzanne’s career, but it gives me a 99 names of artists Suzanne did or may have photographed and deepens this investigation.\n\n\n\nFIRE! catalogue cover and excerpt, hosted by the CAMH, February 16 – April 15, 1979\n\nAs I dig into the paper documents left in Suzanne’s archive collection, I get an increasingly strong sense of the headway she made for women artists. Another significant exhibition in which Suzanne was included in was the touring presentation by Women and Their Work, Women In Sight: New Art in Texas – the first statewide juried exhibition of women artists ever held in Texas, juried by Marcia Tucker, then Director of The New Museum of New York.\n\n\n\n

In 1981 Suzanne was included in in The Ties that Bind: Photographers Portray the Family, and exhibition supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Photography Survey. This presentation found Suzanne in the company of standout and award winning and lauded Texas artists: Gay Block (Houston), Alan Pogue (Austin), Barbara Riley (Corpus Christi), Janice Rubin (Houston), Wendy Watriss (Houston), Ron Evans (Dallas), and Keith Carter (Beaumont). As a group, the featured artists credits include NewsweekTimeThe New York TimesNuestroTexas Observer, and Texas Monthly, and art journals such as ArtweekArt in America, and Camera Magazine, among others. If we were to follow the trajectory of each included artist, we’d see the direct shaping of the photographic climate and community in America. And this is the whole point: if we look at the respective history of this one artist’s career – we come to know our present condition, thoroughly and intimately. Then we can say, with confidence, \”Houston and Texas have indeed impacted the language and tenor of American Art.\”

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Another exhibition at the CAMH in which Suzanne was included was the group 1982-1983 show IN OUR TIME: HOUSTON’S CONTEMPORARY ARTS MUSEUM 1948–1982which yet offers event more valuable information on Suzanne and the history of art and artists in our community. This exhibition was designed \”to solicit information about and document the history of the Contemporary Arts Museum over its first 34 years.  It charts the growth of the museum from its founding by a group of Houston citizens committed to bringing contemporary art to the city.  The assembly, codification and organization of scattered records, many still in the hands of volunteers, resulted in the establishment of an archive for the Museum.\” Interesting – and I may not need note, but I will, that Suzanne contributed to this aggregate of creativity as both a documentarian and as an exhibiting artist.

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\n\n\n\n\nAfter these early presentations of Suzanne’s photography, there are two decades of artistic activity to research and piece together. I hope to detail in coming posts more of the exhibitions in which Suzanne was a featured artist. There really is no telling what we’ll uncover and no limit to the connections we can make among artists in Houston, in Texas, and in America. What we know for sure is that we’ve opened an exciting can of worms and that we’re making connections that encourage us in our pursuit of learning and sharing our city’s collective artistic history.\n\n \n

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\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 10.28.16

Focus: Suzanne Paul: The Artist’s Early Career