Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Becoming a Girl

About a year and a half ago I began this painting, but didn't finish it.  It's very large (60"x40"), and her body is much larger than life size.  I think I felt a little bit intimidated by it, or perhaps I got caught up in something else - I don't really remember -but it spent some time up in my storage loft until two weeks ago when I decided it was time to finish it.

I've entitled this piece "On Becoming a Woman" because this young woman is in the process of becoming a woman.  Several years ago it became clear to her that she was born into the wrong body and needed to change it as much as she could.  I admire her courage - first for having enough guts to do what she needed to do to feel integrity within herself and secondly for posing for me and allowing others to see her body as it is mid-transition.  Thank you, dear friend, for your courage.  May you find peace within yourself at each stage of your life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On allowing oneself to become great.

I found this today when I was reading Marianne Williamson's Everyday Grace: Having Hope, finding Forgiveness, and Making Miracles.  It speaks loudly to me.  I want to make a huge difference in the world and I sometimes feel presumptuous to think I could.  This quote offers me courage and belief that it's OK to go ahead and do my best to take on the vision I have of how the world can be and to work towards actualizing it.

There is a light in all of us because God put it there.  We can look to those in the world who evolved to a higher level of consciousness during their lifetimes.  They were not made of different stuff than we are so much as they made different decisions than we do.  It was not EASY for Abraham Lincoln to be the Abraham Lincoln we revere today; it was not EASY to be Susan B. Anthony, or Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr.  They were born, as all of us are, with potential greatness.  But the actualization of that greatness was not predetermined.  They could have decided to do and be otherwise.  Whatever spiritual force moved within their hearts, luring them toward a magnificent destiny, is a lure that exists in all of us.  There is no rational formula for greatness, for greatness is not rational.  On some mysterious level, despite whatever resistance they felt, the great are those who simply said yes at times when others would have said no.  Fear did not deter them so much as it honed them.  Something called to them from a higher place, and they responded to what they heard.

Are we not being called by history to become the greatness that lies in us?  What happens to this Earth now is up to us.  We can remain who we are and sink further into the troubled world we have already made, or we can allow our hearts to crack open like cosmic eggs, out of which will emerge transformed creatures - our own true selves.

Look at it closely, in yourself and others, and tell me that creature does not have wings.

May you each have the courage to become the greatest you have within you to become.  Blessed be.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fun Lover - Is it OK to be happy?

The last few weeks I've been feeling less enthusiastic and focused in the studio than is my wont.  I've had trouble getting motivated to paint, and I've been wasting copious amounts of time on Facebook and taking care of logistics.  There's lots of marketing stuff that needs to be done, so that's not a bad thing in and of itself, but it hasn't felt so good to be detached from painting.

Today I met with some friends and one of them asked me what my greatest dream is for myself.  She electrified my memory -

My dream is to have my artwork in the world's greatest museums.  More importantly, my dream is to help shift the way women perceive their bodies so that love is all they feel when they look at themselves in the mirror.  I want to affect a global shift in consciousness about this.  I plan to sell every canvas I can create as quickly as I can paint them, and I want to be in demand as a speaker and lecturer and workshop leader.

Her next question was to ask me what's stopping me from getting there.

I immediately knew that I have blocked myself recently - I have had trouble allowing for all the goodness that's been coming my way because others I know and love and care about are suffering.  For some distressed reason, my convoluted logic goes, if they are suffering, I should not be happy.  It isn't fair for me to be joyful and living the life I've envisioned because they are so unhappy.   If, in fact, I am selfish and self-centered enough to allow myself joy, then I'm a real shit.  Instead I should spend my time working to help them be happy and to suffer less.

I realize that is unhealthy thinking.  I recognize that I can't actually make anyone else happy, nor can I relieve their suffering.  The best thing I can do for the world is to take care of myself and do what I can to make myself happy so no one else needs to worry about me (the way I'm worrying about these other dear people).  I have some sort of crazy belief that it's selfish to be happy.  Actually though, I'm fun to be around when I'm happy, and I'm productive, and I do great things like paint wonderful paintings and put on huge art shows and performance series.

So from this day on, I'm committing to joy and happiness.  I am committing to allowing myself joy and success and prosperity and everything else good.  Hopefully the next time I get into such convoluted thinking I will remember this commitment and gently remind myself that it's good for the rest of the world AND me when I'm happy!  It isn't selfish.  It's a good thing.   Just imagine what the world would be like if all of us allowed ourselves the pleasure of being happy regardless of circumstances.  Sounds good to me!

After my friends left, I rushed into the studio, ablaze with an idea for a painting I wanted to do.  I'd seen the image a few days ago when I was cleaning out my files and it stuck with me.  I pulled out the picture, cut a large piece of canvas out, rearranged the studio so I could staple it to a board, squeezed out tons of paint, and got going - no gridding.  I drew the image with oil sticks.  It wasn't very accurate, but that wasn't my concern.  I just wanted to paint.  I felt driven like I haven't in a while.  It's so freeing to let go of the grid and the perfectionism of making things look as perfect as I can.  I smeared the paint onto the canvas and let this woman evolve.  When I thought I was done, I took a break - I'd been painting 3-4 hours almost without break - and stood back.  I could see lots of room for improvement, but it was time for Letterpress class, so I cleaned my brushes and got ready to go.  I stood back again to take a look.  So many things to fix.  I dabbed a bit of paint on the canvas again - that was all it took - I decided to skip class and to get back to work.  I painted another 2 hours.  Now she feels mostly done though I can still see some room for improvement.

But now, in my studio, I have an expression of joy and fun, a woman looking at me with enjoyment and pleasure in her eyes, acting like a goof - she was playing with a huge curly Afro wig.  We were both laughing as she posed.  I'm glad for her radiant energy filling the space.

It feels so f___ing good to have freed up my energy some - finally!  Thank you, friend, for your perfectly placed questions.  Thank you, lovely model, for giving me such a fun image to paint.  And thank you, Universe, for helping me get unstuck.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Comments for Not Barbie: A Celebration of Real Women

Thank you does not even begin to express the gratitude - your lovely models are so clearly our sisters and selves entwined.  What a joy to see women, real women & think Beauty.  ~ AP
Thank you Susan!  This exhibit is outstanding - moving - powerful - inspiring and outrageous and it will help to educate women and men - thank you!  You are a gifted artist!  ~ ROS

Empowering and validating.  A show that should be seen by all.  ~ D

Wow!!  Amazing and beautiful.  Important work challenging society's assumptions on what beauty is.  This exhibit deserves a national exposure.  Thank you!  ~ JB

Love the exhibits - beautiful women - makes me appreciate my body more.  also as a mother of a transgirl - I love your display of beans: female ~ inbetween/undecided/intransition ~ male
Helps open the minds of others that gender is beyond the binary scale - but a continuum.  Thank you!!

Beautiful work!  Thank you & all of the women shown for the boost of confidence and pride that we should all have in ourselves.  ~ AMG

I love your focus on the "experience" of posing nude.  It really framed the works for me.  ~ AJ

Susan, What an incredible show - on so many levels - the visual excellence is amazing - the creative journey depicted for model and artist is enlightening and empowering for all including the viewer.  It reminds me of a quote from a famous photographer about how you must love your subject.  This is a project of love, creative excellence and a greater vision for social change.  Well done!!!  ~ KB

Thank you for all of thse beautiful women pics.  We are all beautiful in our own ways and you captured them all perfect.  Much love to you.  ~ DL

Absolutely gorgeous renditions!  You make me feel so much more comfortable to be a woman!  ~ BD

Susan, What an inspiring look at real women facing real life.  I can't wait for what's to come!  Blessings.  ~ J

Susan, this is such an amazing event/forum to bring to RVA!  Thank you for your courage.  ~ JS

I stand here in awe with tears welling up in my eyes!  So beautiful and gracious!

Love it!  beautiful, inspiring, courageous, & amazing.  ~ b

Healing images!  and stories.  Thanks!!! ~ MBG

It is all amazing - so reaffirming.  you did a wonderful thing in showing the reality and beauty that lies therein.  Thank you and carry on.  ~ DLH

Susan - I was taken by the joy that came through - in the meeting place between artist/model/viewer/materials - still room for mystery - shadow and pain - but lots of joy.  I, too, loved "Illumination".  Also, faces revealed so much ("Valley") and kept some things hidden.  The vulnerability & beauty of the feet in the Mother/Daughter Jock painting totally moved me.  ~ LS

Thank you to each of you who took the time to think about the show and comment on it.  I am so very grateful for your kind words.  They will inspire me to continue with my work if ever things get tough.
Much love,

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Pictures and Statistics from Beyond Barbie - a huge success!

Beyond Barbie: Piecing Together Today's Woman ended in early November with "Life in the First Person", a series of readings by seven different writers.  It, like all the other performances, was stellar.  I have been blown away by the deep sharing that took place during each evening.  The topics were completely varied: Birth, Body Modification, Dance, Spoken Word, Eating Disorders, the Blues, and Intimate Partner Abuse and each was fascinating, rich, fun, poignant, spirit-filled, empowering, interesting, etc., etc., etc.!

Khalima and Dawn Flores after Khalima's performance of Longing at Unity, one of the connections made through Beyond Barbie
Linda Goodman, Lisette Johnson, Megan Hicks, and Susan Singer at Through the Fire
I spent some time trying to figure out what they had in common - what I came up with was the authenticity of the performers.  They all presented their material from the heart, sharing what was true for them openly, without artifice, and the audience members held the space safely, recognizing the sacredness of that deep sharing.  We covered topics which weren't comfortable to be with like the death of a baby, being shot by ones husband, female circumcision, for example, yet we were able to be with the discomfort and feel compassion for the tellers because we could see their humanity.  No Hollywood manipulation was necessary.  No Jerry-Springer-like over-the-top histrionics.  The Truth was sufficient.  It was "Reality TV" at its best.  My heart was flooded with compassion and empathy with each story.

Yet the stories weren't all sad either.  One woman shared about being photographed by Playboy when she was a teen.  Another shared a beautiful birth story.  We watched dances that expressed great joy and spirituality, and we listened to Gaye Adegbalola sing the Blues full of empowerment and heartfelt goodness.  The range was extensive, just like in real life, condensed into seven evenings of community.
I gathered some numbers from the series which might be interesting to you:

302 - VERY approximate number of different people who attended one or more of the performances.
500 - approximate total number of attendees over the course of seven weeks
$4880 - amount of money brought in through sales of tickets for Beyond Barbie
$413 - amount donated to charity - Eating Disorder Coalition
27 - number of artists paid by BB for performing
100+/- - greatest # of people at one night - Life in the First Person
197 (and growing) - number of FB fans of BB
15 - # of people who've expressed an interest in keeping BB going
1000's - number of new connections and friends made through BB!
5 - the number of articles written about Not Barbie or Beyond Barbie (RVAMag,, Style Weekly, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and Richmond Magazine
Sheila Gray, performer at Life in the First Person

“Beyond Barbie – Caught in a Fun House Mirror”, by Matt Wetsel,, Nov 2

“Exhibit Reveals More Than Just Skin”, by Alix Bryan,,, Sept 21

“Naked Truth: Susan Singer’s ‘Not Barbie’ lets it all hang out at Crossroads Art Center”, Style Weekly,, Sept 13

“REAL WOMEN: Exhibit Focuses on Beauty and Body Image”, Richmond Times Dispatch,, Sept 12

“Body Work”, Richmond Magazine, by Anne Dryfuss,, Sept

Linda Goodman and Denise Bennett at Through the Fire
By all accounts, the shows were a fabulous success, and I'm deeply grateful to each and every person who participated either by performing or attending or buying ads for the program or providing us with space (thanks, Jenni Kirby and everybody else at Crossroads!) or by supporting those of us who did all those things.  I truly believe that this series helped shift the paradigm of how we see women.  We have come to recognize the strength in being real, honest, authentic and vulnerable.  Ironically, it is not a place of weakness - it is a place of strength and empowerment.

May we each go onward from this day forward to be our authentic selves, Beyond Barbie!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reminiscent of Cassatt's Baby Reaching for an Apple

Tomorrow I'm going to start work on a picture I took the other day which reminds me of Mary Cassatt's painting at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Baby Reaching for an Apple. 

My model decided to be bold and go outside to have me photograph her there.  She seemed to have a wonderful time wandering through the creek and exploring the area.  At one point I captured her reaching up for a leaf with a beautiful expression of joy.  I think it's her reaching hand as well as her sense of wonder and delight which remind me of the Cassatt painting.  I'm looking forward to working on this one.  I haven't painted the great outdoors in this much detail before, so, as my model said, this will be quite a challenge!  I'll post pictures as the painting evolves.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The last month has been busy! 2 new pieces, 2 national shows, and BB revival!

Sorry for my long absence!  It's been a very, very busy month since Beyond Barbie finished.  I am still planning to write a post about the series and how it went for all those of you who might be wondering.  In the meantime, just a teaser...  we're working on putting together a "Best of Beyond Barbie" to run for a weekend in March in Richmond.  It will have 8-10 pieces in it, a compilation of topics from all the evenings, but most of the pieces will probably be different than what you saw at Crossroads.  We're in the initial planning stages.  Of course I'll let you know as soon as anything is certain!

Other than beginning to plan The Best of..., I've been painting, planning two shows, and working on getting other shows outside of Richmond.  I'll give you more details on all that as they are solidified as well.

Some great news - I had a piece, Waiting, accepted into Shades of Pastel, a national pastel show sponsored by the Maryland Pastel Society.  The very, very exciting news about that was that the piece got a prize for Best Portrait.  THAT was exciting!  The prizes were a gift certificate to one store and a 78-piece set of Great American Artworks Pastels - I just received them the other day and am looking forward to trying them out - they're a brand I haven't used before.  Can't wait to see what they're like.

Some other wonderful news - I got another piece, Susie Kissing Sally, accepted into a different national show, Au Naturel, at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, OR.  It's my first West Coast show, so it's particularly exciting!  I wish I could go out for the opening in February, but it's a bit far for that!  I've applied for a solo show there in Oct.  If I get that, I'll definitely go out then.  Astoria is supposed to be a wonderful town with lots of art, so it sounds like great fun.

So stuff is happening like crazy art-wise.  Not Barbie was a great success.  Beyond Barbie, the performance series, was fantastic - I'm blown away by the talented women living here in Richmond who performed in it.  Almost every day someone tells me how much the series meant to them and how much it affected their lives.  It doesn't get any better than that as far as I'm concerned!

In addition to all that, I've also been managing to get a little bit of painting done.  The two most recent pieces are "Present to You" and "Dancing with Hotei."

"Dancing with Hotei" is the first once.  My model was sitting on the floor and "danced" with the wonderful statue I have of Hotei.  Hotei is described on Wikipedia as follows:
  Hotei is traditionally depicted as a fat bald man wearing a robe[3][4] and wearing or otherwise carrying prayer beads. He carries his few possessions in a cloth sack,[3] being poor but content. He is often depicted entertaining or being followed by adoring children. His figure appears throughout Chinese culture as a representation of contentment.[3] His image graces many temples, restaurants, amulets, and businesses.[1]

The picture here shows him from the back.  My model saw my statue when she came into the studio and commented that she liked him, so when I was photographing her I asked if she'd like to have him in the shots.  She immediately said yes then moved into a meditative dance with him.  I feel like she's reaching the sublime in this image.  The necklace she's wearing is one her friends put together for her at the Blessing Way before her son was born.  Each bead was from a different person then someone created the entire necklace.  I believe the model wore it when she gave birth.

The second picture is called "Present to You".  I thought about calling it "Behind the Curtain", but I didn't want to give the indication that the model might be hiding - not at all!  She was exceedingly comfortable in her body and modeling for me, very open and at ease, so "Present to You" feels like a more accurate description of the image.  I have many beautiful images of her, but I liked this one for the expression on her face and the strength in her hand.  I find everything about her completely authentic and present, no pretense, no hiding, no pretending.  She is who she is. 

It's fascinating to me to paint these women, each of whom is so very different and whose images come out so very differently.  I love how much of a sense of the person you can get from each painting when I've done them well.  My models are such a gift to me.  And to everyone who sees the pictures!  Thank you, models!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Article by Matt Wetsel in RVAMag

Matt Wetsel, a friend from Beyond Barbie's night on Eating Disorders, has written a stellar article about that evening and about eating disorders in general for RVAMag.  If you weren't able to make it, this is a great way to get a sense of the evening.  Thanks, Matt, for such a great article, and thanks, RVAMag, for publishing it and addressing this vital topic.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Bonobo Sisterhood or How to Deal with Jerks


My friend Roberta Sachs told me some time ago about the Bonobo Sisterhood, a concept she learned from Diane Rosenfeld, a researcher and professor at Harvard.  I have been thinking about it ever since. 

Bonobos are a type of primate who are very closely related to the chimpanzees.  Rather than being patriarchal, though, like the chimps, theirs is a matriarchal  society, and they have very, very little reported, observed violence, unlike chimps, who will kill males from other groups, unprovoked, simply to defend their territory.

What Roberta told me that has stuck with me is the way the Bonobos deal with male violence and aggression - if a male bonobo starts messing with a female, she will call and scream for the other females.  They will come and surround the male and fuss at him and let him know in no uncertain terms that his behavior was totally uncool.  I have not been able to find any documentation to back up this information, but that is almost irrelevant to me - I have decided to adopt that technique as my own and to give the bonobos credit for it!  Why not?

Here's how I've used the technique a couple of times lately:

When I was at an art opening several months ago, I went up to speak with a friend who was speaking with a male acquaintance I've known for about 20 years but had only spoken with 2-3 times previously.  He, let's call him Johnny, came up to me, heavily put his thick and husky forearms on my shoulders and said, "Hey, babe, let's go out in the alley and make love."  My friend laughed and said, "Oh, Johnny!"  I told him, "I don't think my husband would like that at all."  He said we could send my husband up on ladders to fix the downed power lines (it was around the time of a hurricane).  I told him no thanks.  My friend and I laughed uncomfortably and made light of it all then went on talking, the three of us, about innocuous things like the hurricane and downed power lines, but all the while I was disgusted by the way Johnny spoke to me.

The next day I decided to do something about it because it really pissed me off.  And besides, I was thinking about those female Bonobos.  I wrote Johnny an email which said,
Dear Johnny,
I don't know if you remember our interaction at [the art opening] the other night or not.  I came over to speak to you and [my friend], and you put your arms heavily on my shoulders and said, "Let's go outside in the alley and make love."  I laughed uncomfortably, trying to let the remark pass, and said, "I don't think my husband would like that." to which you replied "We'll send him to put up power lines."

Johnny, I want to let you know that your comment made me feel very uncomfortable.  Your arms on my shoulders were also unwelcome.  In the future, I would like you to please refrain from such behavior and such comments in my presence.  I do not welcome them at all.  They are not flirtatious.  They are not cute or funny.  They make me feel uncomfortable.

Thank you for your kind regard in this matter.

Susan Singer

I could feel my adrenaline pulsing through me as I wrote the note and couldn't decide whether I had the courage to send it or not - until I thought about cc'ing my friend who was also there.  Doing that made it something Johnny couldn't ignore because my friend was involved also.  I wrote my friend an additional note to explain what I'd done and why.  She was cool with it because she'd known this man a long time and had experienced his unwelcome attentions herself and had seen him behave similarly to many other people.

To his credit, a few days later Johnny wrote me a brief note of apology.  Then, even more to his credit, when I saw him a week or so later, he didn't mention my note at all - that was fine with me - it would have been very awkward if he had - but he was friendly and appropriate.  It was a giant relief.  I felt elated that I had written him, told him that his behavior was NOT OK with me, and had caused a change in his behavior towards me.

I am thankful for my friend's willingness to participate with me and for Johnny's ability to take "coaching."  I think it can be scary to tell people what I don't like, but, man, it sure is empowering, especially when they change their behavior!

A few days later I had a second opportunity to use the Bonobo sisterhood.  A friend of mine had written something on Facebook about ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, taking a bath.  Someone who had friended us both, but whom neither of us knew personally (we'd only friended him because he was friends with someone else we knew), wrote a comment which made my friend, Betsy, uncomfortable, along the lines of my painting her with just her bubbles on.  That could be a cute comment - maybe - if you knew the person and your relationship was flirtatious anyway, but for a total stranger to say it felt icky to Betsy.  She deleted his comment and wrote to ask me about it and the person who'd written it.  I told her I didn't know him and had gotten some uncomfortable vibes from him too.  We decided to work together on it.  She wrote to tell him that she'd deleted his comment because it had made her feel uncomfortable, and I wrote him a lengthier note to ask him to please run his comments to me or about my posts through a strong PC (politically correct) filter before posting.  I cc'd Betsy on the note.  He responded saying he wouldn't say anything ever again.  I told him I wasn't asking him to do that - I just was asking him to please be more aware of what he said and to try to make sure what he was saying was appropriate.  Since that time, he has been a gentleman in responding to my posts.  Another friend, who friended him because she saw he was a friend of mine, asked me if he was weird or was OK, and I told her the story - I have a feeling there's something a bit off about him, but all I know for sure is that asking him to be more appropriate worked, and I think one reason it did is, again, because I did it with my friend Betsy's knowing about it - and the man knew she knew.  It's much more difficult to ignore two "crazy broads" than one isolated one.

Have you had any experiences of Bonobo Sisterhood?  I encourage you to give it a try the next time someone does or says something which makes you feel yucky.  Call out your sisters and take the confused jerk to task and ask for better behavior the next time.  The world might become a much nicer place if we do!  (And I hope you'll post your experiences here so we can all cheer for you when it happens!  And if you need some Bonobo sisters, I'll certainly be happy to be your witness!)