Suzan Woodruff preservers through near death with new paintings and sculpture

Billis Williams Gallery (2716 S La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034) presents “SUZAN WOODRUFF: FROM THE EDGE,” the gallery’s first solo exhibition by the Los Angeles-based painter. The exhibition opens May 11 features the artist’s new paintings and monumental sculpture and continues through June 8, 2024.

With a career spanning four decades, Suzan Woodruff is well known for her luminous, ethereal, and yet deeply grounded abstractions. Utilizing a physically demanding painting process, Woodruff creates paintings that are marked by cascading patterns that seem to change as the eye moves across the painting – colors shift, forms appear and recede, the light changes. Woodruff’s mastery of her medium is haunting in its beauty – transfixing and transforming.

Born in Phoenix, AZ, Woodruff’s creative life began at an early age. Raised by her gold-prospector grandparents who taught her how to read rocks and by her desert-bohemian mother, Woodruff immersed herself in the desert’s infinite spaces, stark light, and spectacular vistas.

She received an art scholarship to Arizona State University where she studied printmaking, painting, and sculpture followed by apprenticeships with printmakers and artists including Shinkichi Tajiri while building her own career.

Over her decades in the art world, Woodruff has done everything from large scale murals to pocket sized illustrations. As her career grew, she left the Southwest for Los Angeles and then New York. Eventually Woodruff permanently settled in Los Angeles – a city where urban grit, desert starkness, and striking natural light collide.

Woodruff’s early work is marked by hints of what has become her signature cascading patterns. In 2003, Woodruff designed her gravity easel – an omni-directional pivoting table that can hold a 10×6 foot painting. Working closely with Jack Brogan, noted fabricator to the California Light & Space artists of the last 60 years, Woodruff’s vision was brought to reality and the gravity easel, in multiple sizes, became central to her work, allowing her to push her paintings to new levels of complexity.

An Artist Near Death

Over the last five years, Woodruff has survived the darkness of three major surgeries and radiation for near-lethal oral cancer. The surgeries left her unable to eat or speak for almost three years. For the first years after the main surgery, Woodruff’s focus was surviving – she describes a blur of just getting through each day.

Returning to painting became a distant hope. Although eating and speaking remain difficult, Woodruff is driven by an internal fortitude – she pushed herself back into her studio practice with steadfast determination. 

Life has been radically altered for the whole world in the last years – COVID changed so many aspects of people’s lives. Layered onto top of that for Woodruff was an experience few will ever understand. There is no comprehending for those outside – and yet what Woodruff has done is what artists for eons have done – to excavate the depths of their personal experiences in their work. Woodruff has poured the emotional energy of one who has returned from the far edges of a soul crushing illness into her work – there is an exquisite joy to these works – a wonder, an exhilaration.

Woodruff’s new work is a revelation. It is the very embodiment of the sublime. To stand in front of Woodruff’s large compositions is to experience the transcendent moment of wonder at the world. As the eye wanders through the forms, the mind goes to nature, to space, to the micro and the macro, to the wonder of light, to the experience of true joy. As one moves in front of the paintings, they change – colors shift, forms appear and recede, the light changes. Woodruff’s mastery of her medium is haunting in its beauty – transfixing and transforming.

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