Suzy Lake

About the Artist

Suzy Lake was born in the United States, in Detroit, Michigan, in 1947. It was at Michigan State University that she began her study of the visual arts, before leaving the United States for Canada in 1968. It is important to note that this year corresponds with the height of the Vietnam War and the riots that shook her home city of Detroit--a time when many Americans were moving to Canada either to avoid being drafted into combat, or simply as a means of political rebellion. It is this  contextThe varied circumstances in which a work of art is (or was) produced and interpreted. There are three arenas to these circumstances, each of them highly complex. The first pertains to the artist: attitudes, beliefs, interests, values, intentions and purposes, education and training, and biography (including psychology). The second is the setting in which the work was produced: the apparent function of the work (to adorn, beautify, express, illustrate, mediate, persuade, record, redefine reality, or redefine art), religious and philosophical convictions, sociopolitical and economic structures, and even climate and geography. Third is the field of the work's reception and interpretation: the traditions it is intended to serve, the mind-set it adheres to (ritualistic, perceptual, rational, and emotive), and, perhaps most importantly, the colour of the lenses through which the work is being scrutinized — i.e., the interpretive mode (artistic biography, psychological approaches, political criticism, feminism, cultural history, intellectual history, formalism, structuralism, semiotics, hermeneutics, post-structuralism and deconstruction, reception theory, concepts of periodicity [stylistic pendulum swinging], and other chronological and contextual considerations. Context is much more than the matter of the artist's circumstances alone. (Artlex.com)  that sent Lake across the northern border of her home country.

After settling in Montreal, Suzy Lake became  minimalistMinimalism is a twentieth century art movement and style stressing the idea of reducing a work of art to the minimum number of colors, values, shapes, lines and textures. No attempt is made to represent or symbolize any other object or experience. It is sometimes called ABC art, minimal art, reductivism, and rejective art. (artlex.com)  Guido Molinari’s studio assistant for a time, also obtaining her Master of Fine Arts from Montreal’s Concordia University in 1977. Lake’s work, however, is very different from Molinari’s as he practiced  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  at the height of minimal modernism. Suzy Lake, on the other hand, like many women artists in Canada in the 1970s, built a practice for herself that made use of video, performance, and photography, and combined decidedly conceptual approaches with politically-charged  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter.

Like her contemporaries Joan Jonas and Lisa Steele, Lake also pointed to her own body as the political stage, incorporating and questioning attitudes about beauty, femininity and social interaction. This tendency has continued throughout her practice, and is present in recent works such as Forever Young and Cicciolina Bar from 2000. In these photographs, we see the artist at 53 years of age in leopard-print spandex as an alter-ego she calls “Suzy Spice,” alternately with microphone in hand or dancing on a nightclub stage.

Currently, Professor Lake teaches at the University of Guelph where she has taught in the School of Fine Art and Music since 1978. She continues to produce conceptually-driven work that challenges femininity, photography and perceptions of body.


Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning