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O N TH E LO O S E

Susan Contreras

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Susan Contreras On the Loose

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Susan Contreras On the Loose

Current Paintings & Selected Other Works Januar y 28 – Februar y 20, 2011

5 5 5 Elm Avenue N o rman, OK 73019 p h one: 405.325.3272 / fax: 405.325.7696 w ww.ou.edu/fjjma

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FOREWORD T h e F r e d J o n e s J r. M u s e u m o f A r t B o a r d o f V i s i t o r s a n d t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f O k l a h o m a W e i t z e n h o f f e r F a m i l y C o l l e g e of Fine Arts are grateful to Mrs. Wanda Otey Westheimer for her generosity and support through the Jerome M. & Wanda Otey Westheimer Distinguished Visiting Artist Chair endowment. It is my privilege to welcome visiting artist Susan Contreras as the fourth guest artist of this program. This i s t h e p e r f e c t r e a l i z a t i o n o f t h e m i s s i o n o f a u n i v e r s i t y a r t m u s e u m , w h i c h i s t o b r i n g e d u c a t i o n a n d a r t t o g e t h e r. T h e O U S c h o o l o f A r t a n d A r t H i s t o r y w i l l b e n e f i t f r o m C o n t r e r a s ’s e x p e r i e n c e a n d t e a c h i n g , a n d t h e s t u d e n t s will especially enjoy the opportunity to engage with the artist. The museum is proud to present an exhibition of C o n t r e r a s ’s s e l e c t e d w o r k s , i n c l u d i n g s e v e r a l d o n e e s p e c i a l l y f o r t h i s e x h i b i t i o n . O n t h e L o o s e s h o w s t h e a r t i s t ’s d i v e r s i t y a n d c r e a t i v i t y, a s w e l l a s h o w s h e g e t s h e r i n s p i r a t i o n f r o m t h e a n i m a l kingdom and keeps her sense of humor while realizing beautiful and colorful works of art. Her sensitivity speaks to adults and children, and she will establish a creative dialogue with the students. Several of the very large canvases, which you will discover in this exhibition, have been done specifically to fit the Sandy Bell Gallery at the Fred Jones J r. M u s e u m o f A r t . M a k e s u r e t o p o p i n a n d e n j o y t h i s g r e a t t a l e n t f r o m S a n t a F e . I would like to thank Stephen Parks and Lois Katz for both their catalog essays and their participation together with Contreras for the opening lecture. T h a n k y o u t o C a ro l O ’ S h e a f o r h e r e d i t i n g a n d d e s i g n e ff o r t s a n d t o J o h n Vo k o u n f o r h i s c o l o r w o r k i n c re a t i n g this catalog. F i n a l l y, I w o u l d l i k e t o t h a n k m y s t a f f , e s p e c i a l l y M i r a n d a C a l l a n d e r a n d h e r t e a m , a s w e l l a s B r a d S t e v e n s a n d Clay Little, for their hard work and creative support. Enjoy the show!

Ghislain d’Humieres The Wylodean and Bill Saxon, Director

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SUSAN CONTRERAS O N T H E LO O S E

W i t a n d i m a g i n a t i o n ( i n a d d i t i o n , o f c o u r s e , t o t h e p a i n t e r l y q u a l i t i e s o f c o m p o s i t i o n , c o l o r, a n d l i n e ) a r e t h e major elements of the paintings by Susan Contreras. In this exhibition titled On the Loose, wit and imagination are apparent in the motivation for much of the imagery inspired by such idiomatic expressions as: “Don’t let the c a t o u t o f t h e b a g ” ; “ D o n ’ t l o o k n o w b u t t h e r e ’s a m o n k e y o n y o u r b a c k ” ; “ J a c k s a r e w i l d ” ; “ F r i e n d o r f o e ” ; “ I t ’s r a i n i n g c a t s a n d d o g s ” ; “ W h i l e t h e c a t ’s a w a y, t h e m i c e w i l l p l a y ” ; a n d “ To p d o g ” . C e r t a i n a c t u a l e v e n t s a l s o i n s p i r e d t h e t i t l e s , a n d c o n s e q u e n t l y t h e i m a g e r y, o f s o m e o f t h e p a i n t i n g s , f o r e x a m p l e : C a t C o s t u m e C o n t e s t ( 1 9 9 1 ) , A B i r t h d a y P a r t y f o r T h r e e L e o s ( 1 9 9 6 ) , R o s w e l l U F O F e s t i v a l I ( 2 0 0 9 ) , Tu d o r F a l c o n r y E v e n t ( 2 0 0 0 9 ) , a n d Rayne Frog Festival Contestant (2009). The facial or figural expressions and physical gestures in each of the paintings enhance the humorous meaning or intention of each work. Her paintings also demonstrate her ability to dramatically depict engaged figures in a frozen moment in time. Beginning in 1995, the use of masked figures as subject matter has also provided a transformative q u a l i t y t o C o n t r e r a s ’s w o r k . T h a t y e a r C o n t r e r a s h a d a show entitled Reveries at Hahn Ross Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was the first show to feature all masked figures in theatrical settings. The response was overwhelming, and the atmosphere in the gallery was electric. About the use of masks, Contreras explains, “It gave me so much freedom, because people could be any shape I wanted them to be. They could wear anything—look any way I wanted them to look—and the light in the painting could be totally magical, theatrical.” She claims that masks “amplify the drama of real life by twisting consciousness and reaching the unexpected.” As she explains: Surprise is the most powerful aspect of my involvement with masks. They seem to take me to places I would not normally go, because masks are not bound by any conventional expectations. I seem to go into the absurd—somewhere between the imagined and real. This both excites and intrigues me. . . What initially propelled me into painting masks was my long‑standing inclination to search for the bizarre and

C o n n i e a n d S k i p Tr a i n u m d e m o n s t r a t e t h e t r a n s f o r m a t i v e power of masks. Contreras photographs her friends posing with masks to use as reference material. 5

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u n u s u a l i n p e o p l e ’s f e a t u r e s — a w a y t o t r a n s c e n d “ o r d i n a r i n e s s . ” T h e m a s k b e c a m e t h e l o g i c a l c o n c l u s i o n to or vehicle in this search. The hidden aspects of a mask—which are what most people feel—are what propel me into the unknown. The masks seem to create their own curious logic and environment. I have to go to the places they take me and understand their logic. I also feel that I have become a mask maker of sorts. While I am painting a mask onto canvas, a being wants to come through the mask, expressing itself. The magic compounds the mask, which is rigid. The mask alchemically becomes alive when put together on an animated costumed figure in a s p e c i f i c s e t t i n g . F i n a l l y, a l l t h i s m a s k o r c h e s t r a t i n g o f t h e s e i n t u i t i v e f r e e - s p i r i t e d b e i n g s o n t o a p l a s t i c format that works is a great challenge and joy that keeps it exciting and non‑ending for me. Contreras was born in Mexico City in 1952. Her father was a Mexican businessman, and her mother was a n A m e r i c a n n u m e r o l o g i s t a n d a p o r t r a i t p a i n t e r. W h e n C o n t r e r a s w a s f o u r, h e r m o t h e r l e f t M e x i c o , t a k i n g h e r four children to start a new life in California, where she encouraged them in all forms of the arts. They went back to Mexico for festivals and celebrations, which k e p t C o n t r e r a s ’s M e x i c a n s p i r i t a n d h e r i t a g e a l i v e . I n 1 9 7 4 , a f t e r e a r n i n g h e r b a c h e l o r ’s d e g r e e in photographic arts from the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California, Contreras joined a small circus, spending two years documenting clowns while traveling as a publicity photographer and also doing some clown work herself. These experiences continue to influence the “stories” of her paintings as well as her color scheme. Drawn to bright colors, Contreras thinks every situation brings forth whatever palette is needed to enhance the drama. The current exhibition, On the Loose, illustrates the m a g i c C o n t r e r a s s e e s i n t h e w o r l d a r o u n d h e r. F o l l o w i n g is a chronological description of each of the paintings, amplified by comments from the artist. The discussion concludes with a few drawings and monotypes, which provide more insight into how she develops her works. The earliest painting in the exhibition, Cat Costume Contest, is from 1991. This painting was originally shown a s p a r t o f a n e x h i b i t i o n e n t i t l e d A n i m a l Ta l e s , w h i c h m a r k e d t h e f i r s t t i m e t h a t s h e f e a t u r e d a n i m a l s t h r o u g h o u t t h e e n t i re s h o w. S h e h a d g o n e t o A l b u q u e rq u e , N e w M e x i c o , t o s e e a c a t s h o w. N e v e r h a v i n g b e e n t o a c a t s h o w before, she found it incredible. As she explains: They had the weirdest looking cats—every breed from A to Z. At the end of the show they had a cat costume contest. This teenaged boy had this poor white cat inside a rabbit costume, and he held it up by

Contreras with her mother and siblings at their home i n C u e r n a v a c a , M e x i c o . L e f t t o r i g h t : P a t s y, C o n t r e r a s ’s m o t h e r M a r y, R i c h a r d , Te r r y, a n d l i t t l e S u s a n . 6

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its two front legs. I pretty much painted the scene the way it looked, with the contestants and their cats, although I changed the characters around somewhat. T h e i n s p i r a t i o n f o r t h e n e x t p a i n t i n g , L e o w i t h P i s c e s R i s i n g ( 1 9 9 6 ) , w a s h e r m o t h e r ’s r e a l i s t i c c h a r c o a l p o r t r a i t o f C o n t r e r a s a t a g e f o u r. S h e u s e d t h i s d r a w i n g a s t h e i n s p i r a t i o n f o r h e r s e l f ‑ p o r t r a i t . T h e f i g u r e i n t h e p a i n t i n g , wearing a ghost mask featuring a single eyelash above each eye, bears no visual resemblance to Contreras or to the o r i g i n a l d r a w i n g . R a t h e r, C o n t r e r a s i n t e n d s f o r t h i s t o be a “self‑portrait” based on her astrological chart— with a cat about to land on a fish above the ghost‑like figure—“Leo with Pisces rising.” As Contreras explains: It is my self‑portrait by astrology because I am a Leo with Pisces rising. I first painted this as an actual painting of myself with a fish on my head looking up at the cat. Then I switched it to this kind of a representation of me—a ghost of me. I had pigtails as a kid and the pigtails are under t h e f i s h , w h i c h i s a r e d s n a p p e r. A n d I h a d a b l a c k cat named Bootsy—a horrible name for a cat—and t h a t ’s B o o t s y u p t h e r e . T h a t w a s p r o b a b l y t h e f i r s t painting where I really let loose. C o n t i n u i n g c h r o n o l o g i c a l l y, t h e n e x t p a i n t i n g , a l s o f r o m 1 9 9 6 , i s t i t l e d G a t o s i n C o l a ( C a t w i t h o u t a Ta i l ) . In this painting, three figures wear spotted costumes a n d l a r g e c a t m a s k s — l i o n , j a g u a r, a n d t i g e r. T h e f i g u r e in the center holds the gato sin cola, or “cat without a tail.” The large, cat‑masked figures set against a bluish-green background occupy almost the entire p i c t u re s p a c e . T h e re d , y e l l o w, g re e n , a n d o r a n g e h u e s i n t h e i r s p o t t e d c o s t u m e s p l a y o f f e a c h o t h e r. A b o u t this painting Contreras explains: I exaggerated a little bit, but that is really what the cat [without a tail] looked like. I thought it was the goofiest looking cat I had ever seen in my life. . . The photograph I originally based this on was from among those I took at the cat show in Albuquerque. I have drawn on those a lot. A Birthday Party for Three Leos (1996) is based on a birthday party that her neighbor had for Contreras and two other women, all born under the sign of Leo. Contreras is the one in the center pushing everybody away from

S u s a n ’s m o t h e r m o d e l i n g j e w e l r y t h a t s h e a n d h e r h u s b a n d m a d e f o r a p h o t o g r a p h i n Vo g u e m a g a z i n e . 7

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the three birthday cakes. She explains that typical Leos want everything for themselves, so she was pushing the others out of the way to have all the cakes. The scene is from a photograph taken of the event, and, of course, the birthday women wore lion masks from her studio. Contreras has an entire wall of cat masks—lions, tigers, jaguars, and domestic cats. The lit birthday candles dramatically light the scene. The outfits worn by the three Leos are somewhat similar to those worn by the figures in Gato sin Cola, and are made up of stripes and polka dots, which Contreras uses often in her paintings. As for the masks worn by the three Leos, their expressions were changed; they were not painted to look exactly like the masks. As Contreras explains: When I first started painting masks, I painted them exactly the way they were, very rigid. I didn’t make any changes in the faces or smiley eyes, and the more I painted any mask it was just an excuse to paint the expression on it. Then I began to change the masks to have new expressions. . . I realized that they were just vehicles—they were plastic and they could be moved around—and the masks began to have their own expressions. A f a i r l y l a r g e p a i n t i n g t i t l e d C a t ’s C u e ( 1 9 9 6 ) d e p i c t s a m a l e f i g u re w e a r i n g a t i g e r m a s k , w h o i s a b o u t t o h i t the cue ball while playing pool with two other characters, who are holding their pool sticks and watching the shot. The pool sticks draw the eye across the lower half of the painting, while the hats worn by the onlookers above draw the eye across the top. As for the composition of the balcony of onlookers, Contreras notes: I sometimes look through really old photographs from the 1920s and 1930s, and that is where the crowd above came from. Of course, they weren’t wearing masks like that. They were just a bunch of people—all dressed up in ball gowns and tuxedos—looking down. . . The fellow on the lower right is actually a circus clown. He may even have been in one of my photographs from when I was in the circus. The first painting in the exhibition to be inspired by an idiomatic expression is Don’t Let the Cat out of the Bag (1996). As Contreras explains, she always loved such sayings. This was partly because she grew up with English as a second language. She explains, “A lot of my responses to those sayings had to do with my coming up from Mexico and not speaking English. For example, I called our next‑door neighbors ‘next door aprons.’ It made a lot of sense to me.” When she heard these expressions, her imagination gave her dramatic visions of their literal meanings, which she portrayed as actual moments in time. The scene here depicts a female figure holding a bag that contains a cat, while a second, ghost‑like figure behind her holds the top of the bag in an attempt to prevent the cat from escaping. Both wear masks and have b u g e y e s , a n d t h e c a t i s v e r y s m u g l o o k i n g . T h e c o m p o s i t i o n m o v e s d o w n a n d u p i n a n a l m o s t c i r c u l a r m a n n e r. T h e b u g e y e s l o o k d o w n t o t h e v i e w e r ’s l e f t a n d t h e c a t ’s l o n g t a i l c o m i n g o u t o f t h e b a g t o t h e r i g h t m o v e s u p t o t h e white cape‑like garment worn by the figure holding the bag. The colors are composed so that the eye travels up and down through the imagery—red of the gloves and red of the mask, blue stripes of the clothing worn by the figure holding the bag and a large blue hat on her head. The white cape‑like garment divides the lower and upper sections of the painting and helps create a well‑ordered composition with figures again dramatically engaged in a frozen narrative moment.

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Paintings

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Cat Costume Contest Oil on Linen, 40" x 60" 1991 22

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Leo with Pisces Rising Oil on Linen, 48" x 36" 1996 23

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G a t o s i n C o l a ( C a t w i t h o u t a Ta i l ) Oil on Linen, 36" x 30" 1996 24

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Susan Contreras O n the Loose

I n t h e e a r l y 1 9 8 0 s , t h e W a l l S t r e e t J o u r n a l d e c l a r e d t h e S a n t a F e – Ta o s a r t c o r r i d o r t o b e t h e t h i r d l a r g e s t a r t m a r k e t i n t h e U . S . , t r u m p e d o n l y b y N e w Yo r k a n d L o s A n g e l e s . To u r i s t s f l o c k e d h e r e , d r a w n b y t h e l u r e o f the Native American art and architecture, the beauty and drama of the landscape, the charm of the adobe architecture—and the art inspired by all the above. They also came to purchase regional fashions—concho belts, L e v i s , S t e t s o n h a t s , a n d f a n c y b o o t s . T h e o i l a n d g a s m a r k e t s i n t h e S o u t h w e s t w e r e b o o m i n g , a n d Te x a s d r i l l e r s and Denver bankers fought over canvases depicting sun-drenched landscapes and mythic scenes of cowboys and Indians. Contemporary painters and sculptors were also drawn to the area, attracted by big skies, cheap rent, and the century-long tradition of northern New Mexico a s a n a r t i s t ’s h a v e n . F o r s o m e y e a r s t h e y w o r k e d a n d exhibited in the shadow of Western art, encouraged by a few adventurous, well-financed dealers whose livelihoods weren’t dependent on sales. Slowly the market changed, as more contemporary collectors discovered the region. After years of struggle, abstract expressionists and photorealists began to find buyers f o r t h e i r w o r k a n d a c h i e v e t h e a r t i s t ’s d r e a m , m a k i n g a l i v i n g f r o m t h e i r a r t . N o w , t h i r t y y e a r s l a t e r, t h e S a n t a Fe market is still anchored by relatively conservative Western art, but the contemporary scene has expanded s o d r a m a t i c a l l y t h a t l o c a l g a l l e r i e s w i t h a N e w Yo r k veneer feature and sell work by local art stars as well as blue chip, internationally-known artists. Susan Contreras is one of these local art stars. She is one of the rare contemporary artists who, w i t h t e n a c i t y, u n i q u e v i s i o n a n d u n u s u a l t a l e n t , h a v e s u c c e e d e d i n t h i s h y p e r- c o m p e t i t i v e e n v i ro n m e n t . H e r c o m m a n d i n g c a n v a s e s o f m a s k e d f i g u re s m a k e h e r o n e o f t h e m o s t s u c c e s s f u l a n d d i s t i n c t i v e S a n t a F e a r t i s t s o f t h e l a s t s e v e r a l d e c a d e s . S h e ’s a n o r i g i n a l , a n a r t i s t w h o s e e m s virtually incapable of producing a boring or derivative painting.

To p : C o n t r e r a s ’s p a r e n t s , B a u d e l i o C o n t r e r a s a n d M a r y E l i z a b e t h A r m s t r o n g , i n M e x i c o C i t y. 58

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A t f i r s t , b e c a u s e h e r s u b j e c t m a t t e r i s s o e x c i t i n g v i s u a l l y, o n e t e n d s n o t t o n o t i c e t h e g r e a t a e s t h e t i c s k i l l w i t h w h i c h s h e c r e a t e s h e r a r t . S h e ’s a n e x p e r t d r a f t s m a n , a n d h e r b r u s h w o r k h a s a n e c s t a t i c a u t h o r i t y t h a t m a k e s her canvases vibrate with excitement. The Contreras palette is as bold and brilliant as is her zest for life. L i k e t h a t o f m o s t s i n g u l a r a r t i s t s , C o n t r e r a s ’s w o r k i s t h e p r o d u c t o f t h e a r t i s t ’s w h o l e b e i n g — h e r a n c e s t r y, her experiences as a youth, her unique vision, how she responds to the world, and the particular energy that characterizes her inner life. According to her husband, Elias Rivera, himself a Santa Fe painter with an i n t e r n a t i o n a l r e p u t a t i o n , “ T h e r e ’s a l w a y s a h i g h d e g r e e o f d r a m a i n h e r p a i n t i n g . S h e ’s v e r y e m o t i o n a l a n d c a n c r e a t e a l o t o f d r a m a i n h e r l i f e . S h e ’s e x t r e m e l y h o n e s t , a s a p e r s o n a n d a n a r t i s t . S h e ’s a l w a y s c o m p e l l e d t o d e a l w i t h w h a t b u g s h e r, i n h e r l i f e a n d i n h e r p a i n t i n g . Sometimes she’ll be nearly finished with a painting, w h e n s u d d e n l y s h e ’ l l s e e t h a t s o m e t h i n g ’s n o t r i g h t a n d s h e h a s t o c h a n g e t h e w h o l e p a i n t i n g . T h a t ’s o n e o f t h e things that make her work so consistently excellent.” Contreras was born in 1952 in Mexico City to Baudelio Contreras and Mary Elizabeth Armstrong. Baudelio was from a banking family but was a jack-ofall-trades who had the “art gene” firmly established in his lineage. His father owned a bronze foundry and

C o n t r e r a s ’s g r e a t - g r a n d f a t h e r w a s J e s u s C o n t r e r a s ( 1 8 6 6 – 1 9 0 2 ) , a f a m e d s c u l p t o r. M a r y, h e r A m e r i c a n b o r n m o t h e r, w a s a g r a d u a t e o f S a r a h L a w r e n c e C o l l e g e a n d a n a c c o m p l i s h e d p o r t r a i t p a i n t e r. S h e and Baudelio collaborated on jewelry designs (which s h e m o d e l e d i n Vo g u e m a g a z i n e ) , a n d t o g e t h e r t h e y remodeled several ranches. “My mother was wild at heart and fearless,” Contreras says, “a true artist. She met my father in Ta x c o o n a t w e l v e - d a y t r i p t o M e x i c o . S h e r e t u r n e d t o Chicago, packed up, and moved to Mexico for twenty years, where she raised four kids with my father in a Spanish-speaking household.” Contreras has two sisters, P a t s y a n d Te r r y, a n d a b r o t h e r, R i c h a r d . When Contreras was nearly five, her mother picked up her four children and moved to Santa Barbara, California, beginning a pattern of travel and change that later took the family to Europe, Canada, and finally to Santa Fe. Contreras says, “My hunch is that

To p : C o n t r e r a s ( c e n t e r ) w i t h h e r s i s t e r P a t s y ( l e f t ) and her mother (right) tending to baby pigs at the family home in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

A b o v e : C o n t r e r a s ’s m o t h e r a t h o m e w i t h a b a b y b u r r o . C u e r n a v a c a , o u t s i d e M e x i c o C i t y, w a s a small rural town back then (around 1954). 59

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mainly she was looking for more options for my sister P a t s y, w h o w a s b o r n d e a f . I d o n ’ t r e m e m b e r m u c h a b o u t my father—I never saw him again—but I will always b e t h a n k f u l t o h i m f o r m y M e x i c a n h e r i t a g e . L a t e r, m y mother took me back on trips, and she would always plan them around festivals—for example, Day of the Dead. That is where I fell in love with the drama of the mask and the Latin way of looking at life and death. As a shy person, masks were liberating for me, so I started collecting them.” In Santa Barbara, where her own mother and sister l i v e d , A r m s t r o n g s t a r t e d a c h i l d r e n ’s a r t p r o g r a m i n h e r s t u d i o . “ T h a t ’s w h e r e I b e g a n t o p a i n t , ” C o n t r e r a s s a y s . “My first paintings were of clowns. I remember one, m a d e w i t h p o s t e r p a i n t o n b r o w n p a p e r. I t w a s a c l o w n , six feet tall, playing the ukulele and really sad because his wife had left him. I was crazy about clowns. I didn’t speak any English when we moved to California, and

literally I learned to speak it by watching Bozo on TV! I remember the first time I saw a circus—my mother took us to the Ringling Brothers Circus in Los Angeles. We had box seats, but the tiger and lion cages were in front of us until intermission, so close that we couldn’t see anything . . . I loved it!!” After around eight years in Santa Barbara, the f a m i l y m o v e d t o E u r o p e . “ O b v i o u s l y, m y m o t h e r l i k e d to travel,” Contreras says. “The whole world was her stomping ground. We always had our bags packed, ready to go. She was moving constantly—Madrid, London, and Montreux, Switzerland. We would buy t h i n g s a t t h e S a l v a t i o n A r m y, b u t w e a l w a y s w e r e educated to the max, and our mother was extremely supportive of all of us being involved in the arts—I i n p a i n t i n g a n d p h o t o g r a p h y, m y b r o t h e r R i c h a r d i n sculpture, my sister Patsy in sewing and cooking, and m y s i s t e r Te r r y i n t h e d r a m a t i c a r t s . ”

A b o v e : C o n t r e r a s ’s s i s t e r P a t s y w i t h h e r d o g a n d h i s f r i e n d o n t h e s e a w a l l i n f r o n t o f t h e f a m i l y ’s b e a c h home in Santa Barbara.

To p : C o n t r e r a s ’s m o t h e r a n d s i b l i n g s i n M e x i c o C i t y. F r o m l e f t t o r i g h t : Te r r y, R i c h a r d , M a r y h o l d i n g S u s a n , P a t s y.

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The family moved from Switzerland to Santa Fe in 1968, primarily so that Patsy could attend the New Mexico S c h o o l f o r t h e D e a f , w h i c h w a s t h e f i r s t s c h o o l t o s t r e s s s i g n l a n g u a g e a n d l i p r e a d i n g e q u a l l y. C o n t r e r a s e n t e r e d S t . M i c h a e l ’s H i g h S c h o o l h a l f w a y t h r o u g h h e r j u n i o r y e a r. “ I t h o u g h t I ’ d l a n d e d o n M a r s , ” C o n t r e r a s r e c a l l s . “ T h e r e w a s s u c h b i g r i f t b e t w e e n c u l t u r e s . A t s c h o o l i n S w i t z e r l a n d w e w e r e t a u g h t t h e c l a s s i c s . T h a t ’s w h e r e I first fell in love with Shakespeare.” I n S a n t a F e , C o n t r e r a s a t t e n d e d w e e k e n d w o r k s h o p s w i t h To d d W e b b , a w o n d e r f u l p h o t o g r a p h e r f a m e d f o r h i s s t u d i e s o f G e o r g i a O ’ K e e f f e . E n c h a n t e d w i t h p h o t o g r a p h y, s h e e n r o l l e d i n t h e B r o o k s I n s t i t u t e o f P h o t o g r a p h y in Santa Barbara after graduation from high school in 1970. In the late 70s, she continued her education at the College of Creative Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she concentrated on painting a n d s t u d i e d w i t h t h e l i k e s o f A l f r e d L e s l i e a n d C h a r l e s G a r a b e d i a n , e a r n i n g h e r m a s t e r ’s d e g r e e i n 1 9 8 1 . I n 1 9 7 8 , at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, she studied with such luminaries as Wayne Thiebaud, Louise Nevelson, and Philip Pearlstein. In 1974 Contreras made her first attempt at forging a career as an artist, after reading a book on carnival life, Step Right Up, by Dan Mannix. Inspired by her fascination with clowns, she decided to return to her love of photojournalism and explore the world of the circus. Her plan was to produce a book of photographs that documented the lives of clowns, both in and out of their makeup. “I went to Ringling Brothers in Florida, but they kicked me out because they thought I was only interested in the seedy side,” she says. “Little did they know that

Contreras as a clown. 61

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CATALOG OF EXHIBITION Pa i n t i n g s Cat Costume Contest Oil on Linen, 40" x 60" 1991, Collection of Charmay Allred

Studio Door Oil on Linen, 54" x 42" 2008, Collection of Kathleen Ellsworth and Francine Sommers

Leo with Pisces Rising Oil on Linen, 48" x 36" 1996, Collection of Stephen Parks and Joni Tickel

Friend or Foe Oil on Linen, 70" x 56" 2008

G a t o s i n C o l a ( C a t w i t h o u t a Ta i l ) Oil on Linen, 36" x 30" 1996, Collection of David and Ruth Arthur

Roswell UFO Festival I Oil on Linen, 20" x 24" 2009, Courtesy of Parks Gallery

A Birthday Party for Three Leos Oil on Linen, 36" x 44" 1996, Collection of George Goldstein and Lynn Marchand

Tu d o r F a l c o n r y E v e n t Oil on Linen, 42" x 32" 2009

C a t ’s C u e Oil on Linen, 62" x 74" 1996, Collection of Richard C. Kessler

Rayne Frog Festival Contestant Oil on Linen Board, 20" x 16" 2009

Don’t Let the Cat out of the Bag Oil on Linen, 30" x 20" 1996, Collection of Bob and Evy Edelman

To p D o g Oil on Linen, 73" x 96" 2010

Cabbage Hat Oil on Linen, 18" x 18" 1998, Collection of T im Davis and Renee Lynn

Raining Cats and Dogs Oil on Linen, 96" x 73" 2010

A p p l e Tr i l o g y O i l o n L i n e n , Tr i p t y c h , 3 0 " x 9 0 " 2001, Collection of Jake and Sandra Mendel

W h i l e t h e C a t ’ s A w a y, t h e M i c e W i l l P l a y O i l o n L i n e n , D i p t y c h , 8 4 " x 1 1 0 " ( 8 4 " x 6 6 ", 8 4 " x 4 4 " ) 2010

The Scent of Pasta Oil on Linen, 36" x 60" 2001, Private collection

Ve n u s a n d t h e C a t Oil on Linen, 78" x 42" 2010

D o n ’ t L o o k N o w B u t T h e r e ’ s a M o n k e y o n Yo u r B a c k Oil on Linen, 16" x 20" 2 0 0 4 , C o l l e c t i o n o f M i k e a n d Ta r a J o r g e n s o n

Rat Catchers O i l o n L i n e n , Tr i p t y c h , 100" x 36" (36" x 30", 30" x 36", 36" x 30") 2010

L a D a n z a d e l o s Ve i j i t o s ( D a n c e o f t h e L i t t l e O l d M e n ) Oil on Linen, 46" x 58" 2005, Collection of Mike and Jennie Crews

Greyhound Get-a-way Oil on Linen, 80" x 68" 2010

Jacks Are Wild Oil on Linen, 60" x 50" 2007, Collection of Jim and Maryann McCaffrey

P r i n t s & D ra w i n g s A Bird in the Hand Oil on Medium Board, 16" x 18" 2004 C o l l e c t i o n o f M i k e a n d Ta r a J o r g e n s o n

Special thanks to

Ohley Drawing, Litho Crayon on Newsprint, 23" x 28" 2004

La Bruja D r a w i n g , L i t h o C r a y o n o n Ve l u m and Mixed Media, 20" x 18" 2005, Collection of Barry McCuan and Lynne Windsor

Lynn Lown for photography of artwork and Robert Walch for frontispiece portrait of Susan Contreras J o h n Vo k o u n o f F i re D r a g o n C o l o r f o r c o l o r c o r re c t i o n s a n d m a t c h p r i n t s a n d O r i o n S t u d i o s f o r s c a n s C a r o l O ’ S h e a f o r c a t a l o g d e s i g n , t y p o g r a p h y, a n d e d i t o r i a l s e r v i c e s Ms. Wanda Otey Westheimer and the Jerome M. & Wanda Otey Westheimer Distinguished Visiting Artist Chair Endowment for making this show possible Ghislain d’Humieres for his Foreword and Lois Katz and Stephen Parks for their excellent essays And a special thank you to all the collectors listed above for generously loaning their artwork for this show F r o n t c o v e r : D e t a i l o f W h i l e t h e C a t ’ s A w a y, t h e M i c e W i l l P l a y , d i p t y c h ©20 1 1 T h e U n i v e r s i t y o f O k l a h o m a This catalogue has been published in conjunction with the exhibition, On the Loose: The Jerome M. & Wanda Otey Westheimer Distinguished Visiting Artist Chair: Susan Contreras, presented by T h e U n i v e r s i t y o f O k l a h o m a , F r e d J o n e s J r. M u s e u m o f A r t , N o r m a n , O k l a h o m a , J a n u a r y 2 9 – F e b r u a r y 2 0 , 2 0 1 1 . Published by: The University of Oklahoma F r e d J o n e s J r. M u s e u m o f A r t 555 Elm Avenue Norman, Oklahoma 73019 Te l e p h o n e : 4 0 5 - 3 2 5 - 3 2 7 2 http://ou.edu/fjjma N o p a r t o f t h i s p u b l i c a t i o n m a y b e r e p r o d u c e d o r u s e d i n a n y f o r m w i t h o u t t h e w r i t t e n c o n s e n t o f T h e U n i v e r s i t y o f O k l a h o m a , F r e d J o n e s J r. M u s e u m o f A r t . This catalogue, printed by the University of Oklahoma Printing Services, is issued by The University of Oklahoma. 750 copies have been printed and distributed at no cost to the taxpayers of the State of Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma is an equal opportunity institution. F o r i n f o r m a t i o n a n d a c c o m m o d a t i o n s o n t h e b a s i s o f d i s a b i l i t y, p l e a s e c a l l ( 4 0 5 ) 3 2 5 - 4 9 3 8 . C a t a l o g u e Te x t : S t e p h e n P a r k s a n d L o i s K a t z Design: Carol O’Shea Photography: Lynn Lown and Robert Walch F r o n t c o v e r : D e t a i l o f W h i l e t h e C a t ’ s A w a y, t h e M i c e W i l l P l a y , d i p t y c h Library of Congress Control Number: 2010942574 ISBN: 978-0-9717187-7-7

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Susan Contreras: On the Loose Catalog Preview