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The Artist « Not In Your Face

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not in your face  

not in your face  

About Susan Barnett

When George Harrison descended the steps of PanAm for the Beatles’ first visit to the United States he was carrying a Pentax Spotmatic camera. Susan, a big fan, decided then and there that her first camera was to be the same Spotmatic.

Her Father, an avid photographer, taught her photographic fundamentals by giving her assignments at an early age. He would give her one roll of Tri-X film and problems such as taking one light bulb as a light source to create a still life. She would go into the basement darkroom, develop her film and make her edit. On Sunday nights instead of watching Lassie, her Father would critique her work making suggestions and analyzing every photograph. She went to a very small girls school (Lacordaire Academy) so she became the high school photo editor for both the yearbook and newspaper. In 1973 her Father ceremoniously gave her his Leicaflex SL2 that she uses to this day.

She received her Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Studio Art from Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York where she did an internship at The Cloisters, the Medieval Branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With that experience she was offered a job at the Perls Galleries on Madison Avenue, New York. That led to a long career working with one of a kind works of Picasso, Braque, Leger, Matisse, Maillol, Miro, Chagall and other artists of the School of Paris. She worked uptown during the week attending auctions at Sothebys and Christies and during lunch visited the Met, the Guggenheim and the Whitney. Next door to Perls was Light Gallery which was one of the earliest galleries to show contemporary photography. Here she saw the work of Harry Callahan, Robert Mapplethorpe and Garry Winogrand that was in many cases being shown for the first time. But on Saturday nights she took the subway downtown to the Spring Street station to attend the legendary openings at 420 West Broadway of the Leo Castelli and Sonnebend Galleries and to Mary Boone across the street. Andy Warhol was a regular downtown and Susan traded a needlepoint with him in exchange for a drawing.

Perls also represented Alexander Calder and was largely responsible for coordinating Calder’s major commissions throughout the world. Calder himself said that “Susan” was a favorite dance partner. At many of the opening parties he would jokingly call her a “living mobile” as he twirled her around the gallery floor. She was always seen with the signature silver “S” broach that Calder had given to her.

Her practice was to design and make needlepoints while sitting at the Perls’ front desk. One day Calder asked her to bring in a piece of canvas and he sat down and drew for her “The Family of Beasties”, the only known Calder needlepoint. He signed it as a collaboration with both names: Susan – CA … his well known signature. At his passing, the needlepoint was exhibited at the Memorial Exhibition held at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977.


The Perls Galleries closed in 1997 by which time Susan had gone on to open her own gallery where she bought and sold on the secondary market to help promote and exhibit her artist friends. During this period, she also attended the School of Visual Arts studying graphic design and photography. In 2004 in a freak accident Susan lost sight in her right eye and since then her work has changed. She joins a long list of photographers and artists who are “monoscopic.” Many have reported the change in aspects of their work with issues such as a different spatial awareness and the change in the depth of field. Throughout, she continued to draw, photograph and make sculpture, exhibiting her photographs with installations of her sculptural “beaded identities.”

She then rented a studio downtown on Reade Street and the walk from her home on East 28th Street to Tribeca became the source of many of her early t-shirt photographs.

Her interest in the t-shirt began in her college years, when as a “student activist” she would work behind the scenes making the posters and silk-screening t-shirts used in anti-Vietnam war rallies. Sister Elizabeth McAlister (one of the Harrisburg Seven) taught art history at Marymount and was Susan’s student advisor. The student body was split between those protesting at West Point (right up the road) and those wanting to marry the cadets. There, in the Seventies, Susan silkscreened the popular anti-war slogan “Hell No! We Won’t Go!” That is the kind of message that was described as a “T-Shirt Time Capsule” years later in a New York Times article about Susan’s work Watching Your Back and What’s on It. The article described t-shirts as providing “a barometer of our times… an iconography of the streets.”

The typology of over 2000 images Not In Your Face was begun in 2009 and is on-going. As the typology has grown over the years, she has seen the messages change with the times. In 2009 Obama had just been elected and you could see many shirts with the slogan “Change Has Come.” Today we see the timely “Vote Incumbents Out” and there are many more sightings of potent swear words.

The t-shirt is here to stay and until they start making only white t-shirts (like Marlon Brando’s in 1953) Susan plans to continue the body of work along with her other projects. Her first book based on the series “Not In Your Face” is called T: A Typology of T-Shirts and was recently published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, UK.

Susan lives with her husband of 28 years, Jerry Barnett, and can be found sailing on Tiana Bay in Hampton Bays, Long Island on weekends. She continues as an art dealer and consultant for private clients. She focuses on The School of Paris and Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture, with a special interest in the work of Alexander Calder.

Curriculum Vitae
View or download Susan Barnett’s CV as a pdf: barnettcv2016


By Jens Friis
January, 2016

LFI (Leica Fotografia International), Signs of the Times
By Carla Erdman
November, 2015
(PDF)LFI (Leica Fotografia International), Interview
By Carla Erdman
November, 2015
A Portfolio of Visual Narratives
Visual Studies
By Xavia Karner
September, 2015
Review by Manfred Zollner
August 24, 2015
T: A Typology of T-Shirts
Bucher: Bildband Des Monats
Review by Manfred Zollner
August 24, 2015
T: A Typology of T-Shirts: Book campaign and interview
July 16, 2015
Photo-eye Blog
By Melanie McWhorter
June 15, 2015
The Photographic Figure
Equivalence, European Photography 97
By Andreas Muller-Pohle
June 2015
http://www.equivalence.com/entree/ent_board.shtmlSusan Barnett — Photographic Genes
Photographic Genes
LFI: Leica Fotographie International
By Susan A .Barnett
April 4, 2015
Vice Magazine Spain
PhotoEspana Descubrimientos Award Interview
Fernando Bernai
April, 2015
T: A Typology of T-Shirts
A Curator
by Julie Grahame
April 2015
Project T: Exploring Self Expression Through T-Shirt Typology
By Jordan Gold
March, 2015
4 Best Photo Books, Review
American Photo Magazine
By Jack Crager
January, 2015
2015 June Photography International,
by Eberhard Hess

PHOTONEWS (and Cover), Hamburg, Germany
By Anna Gripp
August 24, 2014
Watching Your Back and Whats on It
The New York Times, Metropolitan Section
By Cara Buckley
August 8, 2014
Ladies Only
Museum of Modern Art, Tbilsi, Georgia
May 6, 2014
By Tina Schelhorn
vimeo.com › Norbert Goertz › Videos
She Screams My Name — Susan Barnett
Foto & Video
May 2014

Susan A. Barnett — Not In Your Face
Photo Monthly Korea
By Joanne Yang Jung
December 2013
Vis mig din ryg … og jeg skal sige dig, hvem du er
Politiken, (Copenhagen, Denmark), Newspaper and online
By Henriette Lind
August 28, 2013
Susan Barnett series “Not In Your Face” Explores American Identity”
Huffington Post Arts and Culture, magazine and app.
July 4th 2013
Motor Pool
Abridged magazine — 32 “Lockjaw”, N. Ireland
By Gregory McCartney
July 2013
High Noon Culture
People’s Photography (Beijing, China)
May 8, 2013
T-shirts elevated to Art In Photo Exhibit
The Coloradean Review
By Stacy Nick
March 18, 2013
Directors Choice
By Elena Firsova
March 4, 2013
Photographer Susan A. Barnett Examines the Art of Personal
Expression in Not In Your Face
Loveland Herald Reporter Review
By Rhema Zlaten
January 31, 2013
Seite 6
Susan A. Barnett und der Stoff für Ideen
By Manfred Zollner

Project “Susan A. Barnett — Not In Your Face”
SuperMassiveBlackHole, Issue 11
By Barry Hughes
November 2012
Big Picture: T-Shirts by Susan A. Barnett — Quirky T-Shirts
Guardian Weekend Magazine and online
By Hannah Booth
October 12, 2012
Library of Congress Acquisition Susan Barnett
Clampart Blog
August 8, 2012
Not Your Typical Portrait
Rangefinder Magazine
By Allison Valencia
July 23, 2012
Susan A. Barnett — Not In Your Face
Fraction Magazine: Issue 35
February 2012
Susan A. Barnett: Audio Interview and Print Portfolio
Lenswork Volume #97
November — December 2011
“Perspectives” — Susan A. Barnett
Center for Fine Art Photography
By the Center
April 2, 2011
Meet The Artist: Susan A. Barnett
April 1, 2011
Heinz Endowments vimeo
Susan A. Barnett — Not In Your Face
By Constantin Nimigean
September 1, 2010
My Project. Susan A. Barnett
Photography Magazine: Print and Pop.com
By Lori Fredrickson
April 12, 2010