Artist’s Choice: Suzanne McClelland
Apr 14, 2014

An artist points at her own large artwork on the wall.

Suzanne McClelland discusses her work Ideal Proportions (Steve and John), 2013 with families, March 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

During the 2014 Biennial exhibition, Family Programs is working with five different artists in conjunction with our Artist’s Choice Workshop series. On Saturday, March 22, families joined Suzanne McClelland in the fourth floor galleries to look at and discuss her painting Ideal Proportions (Steve and John), 2013. Since the early 1990s, McClelland has made paintings that relate to both spoken and written language. In her Biennial work, she addresses the ways that human bodies are quantified and described by objective numerical measurements. The numbers and words in Ideal Proportions (Steve and John), 2013 are drawn from the ideal male proportions of the chest, girth, thigh, calf, wrist, neck, etc., according to the influential bodybuilders Steve Reeves and John McCallum. Bodybuilders work to transform their bodies, adhering to these strict measurement and aesthetic standards. 

A group of families looking point to artwork as the artist watches from the side.

Families look closely at McClelland’s work. March 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

In the galleries, the first thing that the kids and adults noticed was the painting’s big, bright, blue numbers. Families discussed other ways we judge things with numbers, such as exams and report cards in school and athletic performance at events like the Olympics. McClelland asked families to focus on where the energy is in her painting and to focus on the gravitational force of pushing or pulling up against something else. They discussed the glimmer of the iridescent paint and the intensity of color and gesture in her paintings. 

A child making abstract marks on paper with black paint marker

A kid explores movement with paint markers on Yupo paper, March 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

After the gallery discussion, families moved to the Whitney Studio where they had a chance to try their hand at an art project inspired by McClelland’s paintings. Experimenting with different materials and surfaces, families created unbound books, incorporating their own body measurements into their works. 

A child's hands rub chalk onto sandpaper.

A kid incorporates her body measurement into her work while experimenting with chalk on rough sandpaper, March 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

McClelland said that you can use the same mark on five different grounds and they all look different. Families explored the smooth glide of Sumi ink on Yupo paper, a polypropylene watercolor paper which has a silky finish, as well as the rough scratch of chalk on sandpaper.

Three hands create a colorful composition with oil pastels

A father and daughter work together to blend oil pastels into canvas paper, March 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

McClelland also showed families how you can achieve different qualities by rubbing oil pastels into canvas paper and blending materials with paper towels and water. The marks and gestures that families made came from measuring their own wingspan and body parts and abstracting these numbers in a variety of ways on the different surfaces. One kid even measured his nose and incorporated it into his art! 

Pages of children's art are laid out on a table

A girl assembles the different pages of her book, March 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

Using their own measurements, each family created their own abstract, numerical self-portraits, fastening the pages of their book together with a sheet of Japanese rice paper and a gold binder clip. The results were a beautiful collection of unique surfaces, mediums, and abstracted numbers.

Two educators smile behind families' artwork.

Family Programs staff poses with families’ artworks, March 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

Join us for more Artist’s Choice Workshops with 2014 Biennial artists this Spring!

Check out our past Artist’s Choice Workshops or learn more about upcoming programs.

Jamie Rosenfeld, Education Assistant