Suzanne Perlman: Painting London

Ben Uri past exhibition

Exhibition held at 28 Cork Street, London W1S 3NG in 2014

Suzanne Perlman paints every day with the same vitality, intensity and grasp of colour as she has done all her adult life. A pupil of Oskar Kokoschka in Salzburg and Sidney Gross in New York, the influences of both artists are readily evident in her work.

Perlman was born in Budapest in 1923 to a family of antique dealers and collectors and during her childhood was surrounded by art and artists. After marrying young, Suzanne moved with her Dutch husband to the Netherlands. Their stay was short as the Second World War engulfed Europe. Their escape from Rotterdam via Paris to the southern Caribbean island of Curacao, off the Venezuelan coast, is a story of Hollywood proportions; needless to say they were part of the few to survive the Holocaust that awaited if they had remained. They made their home in this island of warmth and light for over twenty years. As with Kokoschka, the crystal clear Caribbean light and local palette has left indelible marks on Perlman’s vision, and she sees and paints with this vibrancy even under grey London skies.

Given the influences on her career and life experiences she has endured, this exhibition, celebrating her ninetieth year, presents London in a uniquely bright and vivacious fashion in a way that perhaps only an artist such as Perlman could.

Perlman studied at Columbia University, New York; San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico and at St Martin’s School of Art in London. The most influential period was in the 1950s when she was selected to work with Kokoschka in Salzburg. This was the clear catalyst for the following half century and beyond. Whilst undeniably individual, her expressionist vigour and joyous relationship with colour combine with a rare sensitivity and impressive command of her often demanding and complex subject matter. Her ‘expressionist dash’ (in the words of John Russell Taylor from a Times of London review) and energetic palette revel in the Kokoschka tradition.

Perlman’s depictions of London are nevertheless entirely her own. Hers is a varied city, part Arcadia, part metropolis, part fantasy and part documentary. Her subjects include summer revels and autumn blooms in London’s parks; traffic-laden busy thoroughfares; Covent Garden nightlife; booksellers on a glowing Southbank, and architectural vistas of the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and St. Paul’s.

Her engagement with the river Thames flowing through the centre of London is so powerful that one can only imagine it is born from her love of the sea around Curaçao. She captures the moment (one of many) powerfully In her painting ‘Parliament’ (1996), depicting both river and architecture beneath an almost Turnerian sky. In ‘The London Eye’ (2011), her fusion of luscious pinks and purples, deftly and seamlessly integrated within her expressionist vigour, presents the viewer with an almost sensuous experience.

Perlman’s love affair with London and its sprawling variety continues daily: whether on her walks or in her car (she is never without her sketch pad) or in her studio where she works every day. She is clearly at one with Samuel Johnson who observed that: ‘When a man is tired of London, he’s tired of life.’

The exhibition included some forty works across oil, watercolours and drawings – portraits and landscapes. Selected examples of her work from Curaçao and the South of France will be included.

Public collections include: Queen Beatrix, the Queen Mother, Netherlands; Museum of London; Parliamentary Art Collection (House of Lords), Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, The Jewish Museum Budapest and Municipal Museum Curacao.

Awards: Officer of the Royal Order of Oranje, Nassau: Honorary Fellow of the Israel Museum, Rebecca Sieff International Prize, Freedom of the City of London.

Suzanne Perlman: Painting London catalogue is available in our online shop

Suzanne Perlman catalogue cover

Suzanne Perlman’s vibrant paintings transform London. This richly illustrated hardback evaluates for the first time Perlman’s ‘expressionist dash’ in oil and other media and contains an insightful essay by the art historian and critic of modern British art Philip Vann.

Suzanne Perlman at the exhibition opening