TIMES SQUARE — An artist whose mural has graced a Times Square building for more than three decades is looking back on her work with a 50th anniversary retrospective.
“Visions of Light & Spirit,” at the Westbeth Gallery on Bethune Street, will showcase the artistic evolution of multi-media artist and photographer SuZen between 1966 and 2016 — from her “traditional” black and white photography to her performance art installations.
The one-name artist, who recently retired from her position as a digital photography and graphic design professor at the Art Institute of New York City, describes her photography her “exploration of reality and illusion.”
She began taking photographs in college, after falling “totally… in love with photography” and darkroom work.
“There was always this trying to take the photographic image and… really [play] with perception and illusion. And I think for me, photography was particularly interesting because it was always considered reality,” she said. “You take a photograph, that means it’s real.”
Her photograph “Flowing Light,” which captured sunlight and the Empire State Building’s silhouette through venetian blinds, became a painted mural on the west wall of 303 W. 42nd St., across from the Port Authority building in 1984, thanks to a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts.
While Times Square and the surrounding neighborhoods have seen drastic changes over the decades, the mural has stood the test of time.
“When you look at the mural now, it looks as good as it did 32 years ago,” she noted.
“Light is such a key element in [my] images,” SuZen said. “I love photographing with light on water, light on glass, light reflecting.”
That element is reflected in a collection of photographs known as “The Blindseries,” in which she captured views of New York City and elsewhere through the slatted window screens.
The idea for the series came to her while she was traveling in France.
“I woke up one morning, at really a very kind of dumpy motel, but the light was coming through the blinds in such a beautiful way,” she said.
In 1981, she started performing alongside her art installations at sites including One World Trade Center, Port Authority and the JFK Airport.
The performances, which often involved opening and closing blinds, music and dance, coincided with her decision to change her name.
“Prior to [the name change], I was primarily just working in my dark room, and very much just doing lots of darkroom work, and very shy and into my work,” she said. “And then with the name change… it was like a coming out party.”
Over the past eight years, her study of Buddhism has informed much of her work.
A new multi-media installation called “Transmigration,” — which “combines multi-media, moving images of the natural world in a looping installation that represents Buddhism’s concept of the realms of consciousness” — will debut at her retrospective, which opens at the gallery at 55 Bethune St. on May 1.
The artist will also present free “artist talks” on May 8 and May 15 at 3 p.m.
“Nothing’s ever the same — each project you do has its own challenges,” she said. “That’s the thing about doing art — I don’t do it because I’m making money, I do it because it’s my passion to see it happen.”