“I paint so I don’t kill myself. I create to stay alive. I’ve been suicidal since the age of three. I hope others will find refuge and validation through my work.Though I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, pain is universal. My goal is to not only keep myself afloat but send others sailing.”
Coming from a severely dysfunctional family which led to group homes and institutionalization in her teenage years, Susan Spangenberg cut her outsider artist teeth at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s renown ‘Living Museum’ art rehabilitation program from 1995-2001. She was on the vanguard of the ‘Girl Interrupted’ female asylum artist wave that has in twenty years become the new normal, yet Susan has maintained the raw brutal essence of that genre imbued with a twenty-first century sensibility.
Susan Spangenberg is an untrained, self-taught artist. She started painting and self-harming at the age of three. She did not talk or communicate effectively for much of her life and that left art as the only healing tool in her very silent world. Susan prefers to create alone in self-isolation. Her work is highly narrative, diaristic and autobiographical. She uses art to cope with the symptoms of her mental illness.
Susan likes to incorporate text and writing into her art, including messages from her late twin brother Robert who died tragically of a drug overdose at the age of eighteen. There are elements of spiritual symbols from her half East Indian ancestry, samples of her psychotropic medication and hand sewn fabric throughout her work. She works in small and large-scale format encompassing drawing, painting and mixed media. Susan never knows what she will work on next. She goes wherever her mood takes her.
“The writing in my work are like secrets. Some secrets are meant to be shared, others are not.”
“Growing up, my Trinidadian mother would force me to sit and sew nothing into thin air, as a punishment. Now as an adult, I hand sew my art to change a negative memory into a positive one, taking control back from her, while embracing my culture and roots she kept from me, continuing India’s rich tradition of women sewing. My mother was very abusive to me in many ways, and would not teach me to speak Hindi. Now, I make something when I sew, and I enjoy it. I know my German grandmother would be proud of me today, because she started to teach me to crochet and my mother stopped her.”
Susan was born in NYC, USA and still lives there. She thanks her psychoanalyst Hubertus Raben for being her lifeline, and dedicates her art to her late twin brother Robert.
Check out Susan’s art videos on her YouTube Channel, under her stage name, Shyla Idris:
UK Art Exhibitions & Interviews, Susan Spangenberg:
2019 ‘Stigma’ The Perspective Project at Rural Enterprise East, Otley College, Suffolk, UK
2019 Interview with Mental Spaghetti, UK
2017 Screening of Susan’s Art Video, ‘U TAKE IT’ in ‘Survivors Stories, LOONIES FEST’, London, United Kingdom, curated by Nat Fonnesu
2017 Interview on KD Outsider Art
2016 ‘A Journey: Loneliness, Hope and Resilience’ exhibition at the Institute of Mental Health, City Arts, Nottingham, United Kingdom (marking the first time pieces by an artist working outside the UK were selected for inclusion) 2016 Interview with the Institute of Mental Health, City Arts Nottingham, United Kingdom