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Woman On Fire

Susan Spangenberg

Susan Spangenberg

b. 1974

Queens, NY, USA

Susan Spangenberg is a self-taught artist. She started painting and self-harming at the age of three. She did not pick up painting again until her early twenties, while a patient at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s art/rehab program, ‘The Living Museum.’ Upon losing her connection there she spent ten years in her bedroom rarely going out or making art as her Depression and Post Traumatic Stress continuously worsened.

Coming from an abusive household where she was the family caretaker, did not leave Susan any time for herself. The arts were not encouraged at home and she further isolated herself when she suffered the devastating loss of her twin brother Robert dying of a drug overdose.

Feeling a loss of community with her former art program, she turned to acting, writing and film to express herself. So began her journey of socialization and telling her story of physical and sexual abuse, racial identity, growing up in a poor dysfunctional family, and tackling the unforgiving secondary diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Failed by the system after forty plus hospitalizations and five suicide attempts, Susan decided to pay out of pocket for a private analyst, Hubertus Raben, who changed her life. He supported her along her artistic journey. She credits him with teaching her how to talk and verbalize her emotions rather than act them out and engage in self-harm.

Susan spent thirty years in and out of mental hospitals. Her story is reflected in her work, revealing the trauma that brought her into the mental health system as well as the horrors endured in the asylums.

She joined Fountain House Gallery in 2015 and so regained a sense of community she had lost and that has encouraged her to continue to work on her art. These days Susan is back to painting, her first medium. She often paints when feeling symptomatic, it is part of her process.

“Art allows me to express the thoughts and feelings that terrify me. The act of creating is painful but healing at the same time.”

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