Erik Sanner Home Visual Other About

st woolf = susan woolf = artist, friend, colleague, collaborator, inspiration

at a nyfa business-of-art daylong workshop-conference thing (taking it to the streets: a guide to making art in public) in october 2008, i was wandering around trying to figure out where to sit during lunch, feeling like it was the first day at a new school, hoping to meet people but somehow nervous. i elected to sit at a table alone and take my chances, passively, knowing that all seating would fill up eventually and i'd inevitably be flanked by somebodies, and we'd either hit it off or we wouldn't - but i'd have eaten my lunch and exchanged at least one word with at least two other people. three bites into my first sandwich, i hit the jackpot. i didn't know it at the first second ("hi, i'm susan"), but there was energy, smiling, quickness, and within the first two or three minutes out came the portfolio - beyond impressed i was thinking "this is the kind of person i want to know, i want to have more friends like susan, i need to keep in touch with this person" - and i was so glad i got to see her work.

i think about painting every day. i don't paint every day but i look at paintings most days and "what it's possible to do with paint" is never far from my mind. so if ever i feel that someone is expanding my comprehension of "what painting is or can be" then i am prone to become a fan of that person. susan's work was so simple, so beautiful, so ephemeral, so bold and so unlikely (it seemed to me). it made me think "wow, there is so much more territory for artists to explore" and "the universe of painting can keep growing" and "there are infinite places for me to go with my art" all at the same time.

she showed me these pictures and she told me about how she created them.

she had collected leaves and sorted them into different buckets by color. she was then in the process of putting the leaves onto the tree trunks by simply dipping them in water, she claimed that was usually sufficient to keep them up for a few hours. however, on this day, after sorting all the leaves, a brisk
wind began to scatter the leaves, they wouldn't stay up. the wind only increased as the light began to wane, and partly out of frustration, partly in an attempt to salvage something from a full day's work, she scattered the as-yet-unarranged buckets of leaves on the dock. i thought this was just too cool.

anytime susan showed me new work or talked about projects she had in mind, almost invariably i thought "that is just too cool." here you can see her passionately describing a future piece at the first business-of-art group meeting she invited me to.

i started taking pictures of her because i thought "that's just too cool" and somehow being with susan often felt like a historically significant moment in the course of my life. this particular project involved putting seeds on big stacks of newspapers - the roots would bind and wrap the newspapers. as the stacks of newspaper decomposed, they would become part of the trees as they grew.

susan always seemed excited about what it was possible to do, and she had as much passion and ambition as anyone i've ever known. to know susan was to not only know someone who was driven, but to somehow be driven by susan. she constantly encouraged and exhorted everyone around her to do more, work harder, think bigger, and ignore obstacles.

it is rare, i find, to meet artists who you both really, really connect with as friends, as well as really, really admiring their work. you do find those people, but it is a rare thing, a difficult thing. susan was one of those most special people for me - a friend as well as an artist whose work i not only appreciated but admired. when ruthie and i decided that we wanted to start having art shows in our new space, there was no question in my mind who i wanted to invite for the first show - it had to be susan. i invited her over to talk about the advantages and limitations of the space (big, but outdoors) and see if she had anything in mind. she decided to install her in-progress work "carry water." she wanted viewers to bring a glass of water with them to the show, to place on an painted map of new york city and its water lines, showing them the source of the water they consume. surrounding the map hanging from the wall would be several bottles of water. these were all discarded water bottles susan had found, and filled with water from a publicly-accessible water source (such as a river). each bottle was labeled with the date on which it was found, the location it was taken from, and the source of water used to refill the bottle. the installation was beautiful and made me think well beyond the confines of the exhibition space, imagining susan at six in the morning on a tuesday finding a bottle and figuring out a way down to a river to refill it, and keeping track of this information. at the opening, ruthie and i both thought, and remarked to each other, that this is exactly how we want to live our lives - surrounded by new art we love, good friends and fresh acquaintances there with us to appreciate it together. i was grateful to susan for sharing her work with us, and i'm glad i had the opportunity to give her a show.

i want to say a little bit more about the type of influence susan had on me besides simply being a funny, honest, open-minded, supportive friend and an incredibly inspirational artist. first of all, she was there. if you wanted to meet susan for coffee, she would meet you for coffee. if you wanted to go to get dinner before or after art openings, susan would go to openings with you and get dinner with you. this is normal among friends, but what was exceptional is that susan was pretty much always willing. beyond that, she would come to see your art. this is a hard thing to ask people to do - i'm showing something, but it's in brooklyn and you live in queens, and i'll only be there for three hours on a thursday night, and you have to work and maybe you want to go out drinking with your friends on a thursday night and none of them would want to come to brooklyn or to see some art - and it's not just a one-time deal, it's every month, over and over - i'm showing a piece this month at this location, i'm showing a different piece next month at that location. susan was always there. just a handful of people have seen more then five or six shows i've been a part of. i think susan made it to every single thing since i met her. i don't think anyone else did that. (she didn't make the six-hour drive to pennsylvania last year - however in that instance we collaborated together on a piece for that show - a bigger commitment, a bigger surge of support from susan.)

one of the last pictures i have of her is at the "intangible" opening at taller boricua.

it is incredible to me that someone was always so willing to come and see my work. i know i am not the only person who feels this way. part of the gift she gave me was to show up when i was hoping that someone would. second of all, she made you be there. i mean, she would invite you to be a part of something which you weren't really sure you wanted to do, but you wouldn't really want to say no, and then you would be there and you would inevitably think "wow this is incredibly good for me, this is exactly what i need." i'm referring specifically here to a monthly business-of-art group susan started. she was a natural leader, there was never any question that there was an agenda which needed to be followed, work we all needed to be doing, and that we were going to follow that agenda and do that work. of course she led by making you want to do all these things, by making it so obviously evident that these things needed doing, it was absurd, really, that we hadn't done them already and why on earth weren't we taking care of them right now.

it felt like i knew susan for years and years. i couldn't believe it when i checked the date of that nyfa workshop where we first met and found that it was just over a year she had been in
my life. for somebody to have such a profound impact in such a short span of time is not normal. susan was not normal. susan was extraordinary - a fiercely dedicated artist, and a caring, giving friend. i have had two extremely vivid dreams in which she has appeared since she died. in both of them she was very happy. i always remember her as living exactly the live she wanted to live, an example of how to be the kind of person i want to be.

here are a couple more pictures of susan being susan:

at a business-of-art meeting with tracy and linda, video-skyping with the bostonians:

and on her roof with angus, on one of the occasional and super-special evenings when it ended up that only she and i were able to make it to one of the business-of-art meetings, freeing us up to yes talk about the business of art but also anything on our minds (some of my favorite memories of susan):

in closing, here are a few of the emails i received from susan. (here are many more of them: it's easy to see why she is so missed and so beloved.

Sun, Nov 9, 2008 at 8:06 PM

Subject: Installation


I enjoyed meeting you at the NYFA seminar, several weeks ago.

Although I did not find much of the information to be useful, I did enjoy meeting others interested in public art.

I am pushing more in that direction with a plan of working full time on my own projects within the next two years.

I am starting a small group for artists who are interested in forming a regularly meeting group to help each other with the practical aspects of our artistic goal.

Are you interested? I have a stained glass artist a graphic designer and a filmmaker/ photographer.

Below I am pasting the email string so far.

I am interested in the potential collaboration you mentioned when we met. Can you give me a little more background info?


Susan Woolf

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Tue, Nov 11, 2008 at 10:03 PM

Subject: great to hear from you


Nothing vague about this group.

It is all about the setting of personal/ business/ career goals and mapping a path to achieve them.

The members help you stay on task, come up with good ideas and give encouragement when things get tough.

I will include you in the email loop as we go forward.

Yes I am very interested in learning more about the Lycoming idea.

I 'm wondering what exactly you are thinking about my art.

Are you interested in doing a collaboration on a local guerrilla enviro/ installation piece?

I have one percolating through my brain.

It involves a shipwreck I discovered in an abandoned canal in queens.

There could be some very interesting media aspects.



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Thu, Nov 13, 2008 at 9:48 AM

Subject: hi all

Erik,Hey if you ever need company on your gallery crawl give me a shout.

I always plan to but rarely go.

Are you doing the Basel Miami?



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Wed, Nov 19, 2008 at 6:43 PM

Subject: Let's meet! - making it.....

Hey you all,

I am looking forward to our meeting on Dec . 4th.

I am attaching the powerpoint presentation from the grant writing workshop I attended at NYFA.

Although it is pretty basic I did find several point of interest.

If you would prefer that I not send you this sort of info please let me know.




I am no longer freelancing as a wax sculptor at New foundry, more time to devote to my art!

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Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 10:22 AM

Subject: open call digital


Don't know if you are on any of theses listserves but this one made me think of you.



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Sat, Dec 13, 2008 at 11:17 AM

Subject: Susan Woolf has sent you an Evite Invitation

You are invited to Holiday Brunch by Susan Woolf.

We invite you to join us for big holiday fun in Astoria! There will be lots of people you know and want to know around a groaning board filled with delicious food and drink. P.S. Bring a poem or thought to type out on the antique Underwood typewriter.

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Mon, Mar 2, 2009 at 6:34 PM

Subject: Art biz group

Hey All,

Although there are nine meetings I think everyone in this group is wanting to take a big step forward toward financial success as an artist. Let's!

It is a commitment and I totally understand if it will not work for some folks schedule.

There are nine salon meetings—one every other week.

So if we start next Monday at 7:30 pm we will have meetings on 3/9, 23, 4/6, 20, 5/4,18, 6/1,15 and 29.

All Good?

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Tue, Mar 3, 2009 at 1:10 PM

Subject: saturday and/or sunday morning?


What a great idea, I am thinking of going to one of the Armory related fairs, but messing with art is way better than viewing it.

I wanted to thank you for inviting me to the crit the other night. You showed great patience with some odd and (I thought) unhelpful judgments.

I am fine with criticism but judgment doesn't move the mind toward reshaping the art.

I think your planting video clearly needs something because in it's current state it doesn't have the dynamism your other projects exhibit.

What exactly is needed I could not say.

Some interesting ideas were expressed and who knows which tangent your mind will light upon.

Keep me posted on time and place for this weekend.

I will bring materials relating to the theme.



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Sat, Mar 21, 2009 at 12:53 PM

Subject: DAC


This is a shot in the dark...

Dumbo Art Center is looking for proposals for the 2009 season.

I was thinking a site specific installation using only cardboard and cardboard boxes with video of ...boxes?

My thoughts have gone to large stacks of cardboard, boxes on boxes in boxes, boxes in water melting over time, video in boxes canyons of boxes with limited sight lines

If you are interested in a collaboration I would be happy to write a proposal jointly or do most writing (as I have more free time) with edits input from you. It is a long shot, the call is highly competitive.

Let me know what you think.



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Mon, Apr 6, 2009 at 9:54 AM

Subject: great way to get some buzz

Hey all I know we do not have Laelia or Ronnie tonight.

We have entered the hardest part of this program.

This is where we realize exactly what we committed to and how hard it will be.

The exercises are not hard, rewriting our own assumptions about our limitations is VERY HARD!

If you are able to squish this tiny, but strong, voice in your own head, you have made a giant leap forward toward success on your terms.

Showing up is really 90% of the work.

So I encourage everyone to think about what we want and how helpful it is to be together as we create new and wonderful paths for ourselves.

Here is how I was feeling yesterday, Laelia picked me up by my bootstraps. Thanks!

I am feeling overwhelmed by everything.

I know it is good, what I need and want. I just get the shakes when I think about the power of my dream and how close I am to it.

I hate that women are so afraid to set their sights high. DAMN IT!

I am working choking that voice in my head.

No Limits.



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Sun, Jun 14, 2009 at 6:54 AM

Subject: Next mtg

Hey All,

As often happens in my world, the circumstances of my life have shifted dramatically.

I am excited to announce I will be moving to a live/ work loft in L.I.C. on Tuesday. I am therefore unable to host our meeting as I will be away till the 27th and have no time to get wireless till July.

Is it possible for someone else to open their home? I will try to bring soup!



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Sun, Nov 1, 2009 at 4:58 PM

Subject: west prize


I did not see you listed in this years applicants.

Are you submitting, you have till midnight?

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Fri, Nov 20, 2009 at 4:53 PM

Subject: My Fall Newsletter

Here is my Fall news, Enjoy!