Susan Spangenberg is a member artist with The Living Museum and Fountain House Gallery in NYC, USA.
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. She was in 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 essence of that genre imbued with a twenty-first century sensibility.
Susan Spangenberg is an untrained, self-taught outsider artist. She uses art to cope with the symptoms of her trauma and mental illness. 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 trauma and 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 also elements of spiritual symbols from her half East Indian ancestry, samples of her psychotropic medication and hand sewn fabric throughout her work. In her Spiritual Fabric Octopus Series, Susan substitutes the octopus for the Hindu Gods as well as Christ. She works in small and large-scale format encompassing drawing, textiles, mixed media, painting and body prints. Susan never knows what she will work on next. She goes wherever her mood takes her.
“In my Spiritual Fabric Octopus Series, I substitute the octopus for the Hindu Gods as well as Christ. I started this work after a vision/hallucination of an octopus being crucified. Later on I dreamed of the Hindu God Ganesh as an octopus. The hand sewn elements is a throwback to my childhood, taking my life back from my abusive mother. Was it a symptom of my mental illness or was it salvation from God?…” -Susan Spangenberg
Susan spent thirty years in and out of mental hospitals. Her story is reflected in her work, revealing the trauma that brought her into the mental health system, the horrors endured in the asylums and the insight and awareness that allows her to transcend and heal.
Susan was born in NYC, USA and still lives there. She thanks her psychoanalyst for being her lifeline, and dedicates her work to her late twin brother Robert.
Career highlights include Susan exhibiting in the ‘First European Outsider Art Fair Osterreichische Nationalbibeliothek’ Vienna, Austria in 2008 as an artist with The Living Museum, ‘NYC Outsider Art Fair’ in 2018 via Andrew Edlin Gallery and her first Solo Exhibition ‘Escaping Childhood’ with Institute of Mental Health at City Arts Nottingham, United Kingdom in 2021.
United Kingdom Art Exhibitions, Interviews and Press with Susan:
2021 Susan’s first Solo Exhibition ‘Escaping Childhood’ with Institute of Mental Health, City Arts Nottingham, United Kingdom. 6/10/2021-7/10/2021 Link to Artwork/Show:
Link to Susan’s Artist Talk on her Shyla Idris YouTube Channel.
2020 News of Fountain House Gallery’s panel discussion, ‘Why Art is Essential in the Post-Covid Era’, is featured in Raw Vision Magazine’s current “Raw News Weekly.” Issue #178. Susan is on panel and in exhibition. The piece also spotlights Susan Spangenberg’s artwork on Artsy and her Shyla Idris YouTube Channel.
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.
For art videos & other fun content, check out Susan’s YouTube Channel under her actor stage name, Shyla Idris.
Shyla Idris YouTube Channel: