After Dark

Susanna Coffey

“In the hours after dark, I can see what is mine to paint. As night falls, places, persons, things that seem familiar, ordinary or well-known, take on different appearances. These are simple, after-sunset mysteries; the shabby boathouse becomes a golden pavilion, a snowy parking lot scintillates and glitters almost into abstraction and a country gas station shines in vivid color.

How could I not want to sit patiently and wait to see the colors of darkness emerge and differentiate from the luminosity of stars, the moon’s bright face, of lit up windows, neon signs and glowing fires? While I can barely see my palette or painting surface, the darkness enables me to explore the mixing of color on that palette in a more reckless and improvisational way than I can during the day.

One night, I looked up from my canvas to see a fox watching me from the edge of the woods.

I began this way of working in 1996 after seeing Jean-François Millet’s Starry Night at the Yale University Art Gallery. Vincent van Gogh loved and famously emulated this painting. Van Gogh was deeply affected by Millet‘s art with its focus on seemingly ordinary people and places. I have admired both of these artists for their gift of revealing the magical nature within what is usually considered mundane.

In After Dark, you will see paintings made in a variety of locations: cities, country sides, night clubs or artist’s studios. Most of these works were made as I traveled for my work as a teacher and lecturer. Though no matter my schedule, or where I go or why, night time and its reveals are always there for me, allowing me to be the artist I am.”

17,Reykavik009_Coffee_March2019-1850 (1)

Susanna Coffey, Reykavik, Snow, Perlan, 2017, oil on panel, 6 x 9 in


Susanna Coffey, Porn Shop Window Milton, PA, 2017, Oil on panel, 3 X 5 inches

Montrose Harbor, 3_16_12 3x5, oil on panel,a_0003 copy

Susanna Coffey, Montrose Harbor, 2012, Oil on panel, 3 X 5 inches

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Susanna Coffey, a respected figurative painter, all her work in self-portraiture, landscape, still life and illustration of classical literature is based in an intense observation of her motif or text. She is an artist know for her ability to create beautifully wrought and expressive imagery from subject matter often deemed ordinary or mundane.

Her works in self-portraiture are investigations of the iconic human head. This work is driven by questions about what a portrait image can mean. What is a beautiful appearance? Why do conventionally gendered images involve caricature? Can inchoate feeling-states be adequately portrayed?

Coffey is also known for her landscape paintings. Like the self-portraits, these works are made from the direct observation of her motif. But unlike them these works are always painted at night. The subject of each “night painting” is chosen for the way it transforms during the hours of darkness. A gas station, parking lot, or cow pasture may seem ordinary when seen in days light but after dark, in her night painting these places take on entirely different appearances

Coffey’s book Night Painting was recently published in its second edition by MAB Books. This book features her nocturnal landscape paintings as well as essays, poems and prose poems by Dr. Carol Becker, Brice Brown, Jane Coffey, Jane Kenyon and Mark Strand.

Recently she created, at The Leroy Nieman Center for Print Studies, a series of jigsaw woodcuts illustrating Apostolos Athenassakis’ English translation of The Homeric Hymn to Demeter. In 1988 Kallichoron Press published her illustrated book of this same translation.

Coffey’s work is included in the collections of The Art institute of Chicago, The National Portrait Gallery, National Academy of Design, The Hood Museum, The Honolulu Museum of Art, Minneapolis Museum of Art, The Weatherspoon Art Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, and others. This year she was one of the recipients of the “Artist x Artist Award” given by the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Other awards include the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the National Endowment for the Arts Award, and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award. Her many one-person exhibitions have been written about in The New York Times, Art in America, Art News, the New Yorker, Hyperallergic, and other publications. Several books and monographs have included, or featured, her work. She received honorary degrees from the Pennsylvania College of the Arts and the Lyme Academy of Art.

Susanna Coffey, received her BFA magna cum laude from the University of Connecticut at Storrs and graduated with an MFA from the Yale School of Art. She was a Visiting Professor of Painting in Columbia University’s School of Visual Art from 2013 until 2023. In 2018 she retired as the F.H. Sellers Professor in Painting at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.