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Gottlieb Foundation 2023 Grant Recipient: Susannah Israel

Susannah Israel's gritty yet passionate view of humanity is drawn from city life. Born in 1954 in New York City, she attended Pratt Art Institute on scholarship as a high school senior. She was certified as one of the first women paramedics in San Francisco in 1980 and earned her BA in Art and Chemistry (1987) and her MFA (2000) at San Francisco State University. Her work is widely exhibited and held in collections in the US and around the world. Career distinctions include awards from the Center for Cultural Innovation, US Artists, NCECA, Fletcher Challenge Premier Award, and Virginia Groot Foundation, among others. Selected residencies include the Oregon Coast School of Art, Archie Bray Foundation, Mendocino Art Center, Black Bean Studios, Jentel Foundation, Boise VASP, and Mission Clay Art & Industry.

“I am an artist and activist in east Oakland, California. My practice is anchored in figurative sculpture, and my intention is to provoke responses of recognition and reflection. “Asphalt & Honey” (2022) re-engages with a world in turmoil, hearing gunshots and sirens all night, and people living in abandoned cars. It is an autobiographical, socio-political art intervention about life in post-industrial Oakland. Asphalt is the gritty surface on which we land, hard. It’s an ever-present reminder of mortality, a final resting place. Its creatures are rats and pigeons. Honey is sweetness, intoxication, and passion, flowers in cement, sunset through barbed wire. Abstracted and architectonic, the sculpted figures stand in for live bodies, and the environment is graphically represented on their skins.”


Susannah Israel. Ceramics Now July 2022. 

"Israel’s expressive, abstracted work uses the figure to respond to themes and issues, which she considers to be the role of sculptors across time and around the world. The overall importance of gesture and compositional dynamics are the artist’s focus, creating the characteristic anatomical distortions, abstractions and omissions seen in her figures. Terracotta is her chosen material for the rich color of the natural surface, and she is influenced by diverse uses of red clay from Mexico, the Visayas, Japan and Italy."

Staying In The Center.  Studio Potter May 2022.

"I am part of a generation of sculptors in clay who were raised on the potters wheel. The techniques, traditions, and esthetics of pottery were still dominant when I was in high school. My first instruction was entirely wheel-based; this was where you went if you wanted to learn about clay in the early 1970s. Everything I first discovered on the wheel remains essential to me as a clay sculptor. Working hollow is a crucial element in my practice, and the techniques I learned for attaching handles and spouts work perfectly for assembling sculpture too. Deeper than the practical aspects, however, is my lifelong passion for the practice of making pots on the wheel. 

It all began one snowy winter in New York state..."

Put Your Thing Down, Flip It and Reverse It: Michael Hart's Ambiguous Illusions.  La casa de sí, January 2022

An art review about complex, fascinating new art work from a renowned Oakland woodworker.

ASOLAS: working in quarantine.  New Ceramics  International Magazine pp 28-31, Issue 4/ 2021. Print.

The methods, materials and processes of this lockdown-inspired work are discussed firsthand by artist Susannah Israel.


Hiroshi Ogawa : a process of the soul.

Review of nine woodfiring artists (Triton Museum) reposted in honor of this amazing artist.

It's Big, It's Blue and It Costs $100.00. April 28, 2021  La casa de sí . April 2021

Commentary on the realities of "making it" as an artist.


Cavier & Bananas: Ishmael Reed and the Big, Beautiful Art Market. KONCH Magazine Spring 2021              

 "By framing the art world through the neo-slave narrative, Reed tears off the veils of whiteness in which its sacred canons are shrouded. Thus he provides an opportunity for change from within the system, which arts professionals urgently need to recognize."

Ray Gonzales: 'Telling' Stories.  Ceramics Art & Perception, No. 109. 2018: Print

      "On the tenth of June in 2017 I took the train from Oakland to Sacramento, a longtime favorite route for me. Rain was falling, an unusual event lately, as we wound through the marshlands and behind the sugar cane factory. The cars were full, and people were talkative, laughing and joking with strangers. I recognized five spoken languages, received a gift of tacos and some cookies, and had ample time to think about the way common struggle in California has shaped our recent history. It is important, essential, that we stand together. For this to have lasting results, we first need to understand our history, and the work of artist Ray Gonzales is a torch held high for that understanding."


Hatshepsut, clay sculpture and Fijian diplomacy: a series in evolution

"After we spent a breathtaking day looking at an exhibition of ancient Egyptian art in the de Young Museum, I received an assignment from fellow sculptor Michelle Gregor. Over coffee in the museum cafe, she gave me an assignment - to make a piece influenced by the magnificent sculptures we had seen. Of course, I accepted..."

Margaret Keelan: Reality Twice Removed.”   Susannah Israel: la casa de sí  

Ceramics Art and Perception, No. 103 pp 70-75. 2016

"Margaret Keelan's clay sculptures present us with a marvelous visual contradiction. These figures are the texture of desiccated old wood, coated with cracked and peeling paint, yet their poses are natural and their gestures are evocative. Examining them closely, we infer a long history and a lifetime of experience.

Getting inside the studio with Keelan is a rare chance to get inside the mind of the artist. (1) discovered that the childish figures the dolls embody actually begin as beautifully modelled sculptures, which another artist might present as finished. On her studio worktable a solemn little girl, balanced on sturdy legs, reaches up to hold an enormous blue butterfly, her facial features soft and delicate. The clay is just past wet, the piece just completed.

Keelan uses classic ecorche' techniques, where the model is skinless and the muscles are shown; she calls this building from the inside out. Correct modelling and anatomical accuracy are important. Yet the artist is aware of what she calls "the tyranny of realism". She says, "You need a distance--with sections, or texture--ways of keeping it sculpture. The story here is this has been sculpted into existence. It is not a child, not a doll. It is reality twice removed."

At this moment, it is hard to imagine this lifelike sculpture changing to match its predecessors in the kiln room, transmogrified into cracked wood and peeling paint, indelibly stained and worn. Graduate studies with Marilyn Levine, the Modernist trompe Voeil master, remain traceable in Keelan's signature surface development. The viewer finds it nearly impossible not to touch.

Why work with old wooden doll images? Keelan says "I loved the weathered wood look, which was to me a metaphor for growing older and 'weathering' down to our essential being. But my desire for (making) the work preceded the techniques. I have an itch and I scratch it."

The Spanish word for doll is muneca, which means both doll and wrist. Considering this in terms of Keelan's oeuvre, the hand certainly activates the doll, in this case not by manipulating a puppet but through the creation of a form. The image and content of the doll seem as uncompromising as a sonnet: rigid, predictable and confining.

Keelan has other ideas. The doll form does not connote personal childhood memories, but does have one autobiographic influence; the figures are always female. She says "I can only tell the truth of my own story--how I perceive the world over time and how my perspectives change. It must be an authentic experience." Asked about her strong sense of the formal, she gives an example unknown to this US-raised writer: as a young child in England she read weekly adventure stories about girl ballerinas who were detectives and solved mysteries and crimes. She also says that as a child in England she saw ballet regularly and she retained a strong sense of formality about the sets and costumes and the children posing and performing.

The potters wheel was Keelan's first love, eventually leading her to sculpting. She lived in England until the age of 10, when she moved with her family to Canada. Keelan takes her rightful place among the new tradition of sculptors, raised on the potters' wheel, who value the traditions and training of functional makers. 'The pottery concept," she notes, "is interactive by definition." Keelan moved to the US to earn her MFA at Salt Lake City, Utah, studying with Marilyn Levine. She began exhibiting professionally in San Francisco in 1988, and is the Associate Director of Sculpture at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

  -article introduction

Alan King: Point Blank.  Introduction to King’s book of poems. 2016 

    "Point Blank, published this year by Silver Birch Press, is a book of poems by Alan King. It has been a deeply provocative read. King was born in the United States in the 1970s to Caribbean parents, at the time when I was coming to adulthood, as a teen parent, during the Rainbow years in the San Francisco Bay area. It was a dizzying time of altruism, hope and change that was to be sold down the cash river in the coming decades. King writes about growing up in those times, detailing the crash without missing the sweetness, the struggles and the triumphs.

     Point Blank begins with the poem Hulk. Immediately I am signaled, briefed and enlisted as a young Black man walks down a residential street at dusk. I know this world, but any reader who does not will also be so informed. For the Hulk in the poem is not the monster. He is at the mercy of the monsters."


Melting the Sun. Oakland Museum of Ceramics Press May 2016

Tiffany Schmierer: Urban Quotidian. Ceramics Art and Perception, No. 95, pp 71-73. 2014: Print


Nuala Creed: Ceramic Archivist. Ceramics: Art and Perception, No. 92. pp 76-78. 2013: Print


Influences, Intersections & Innovations. Catalog essay, Third Annual Ceramics of America. John Natsoulas Press: Davis pp 9-11. 2013: Print


Jennifer Brazelton: Essential Structures. Review by Susannah Israel. 2013


Oakland Museum of Ceramics Press,  Blog, articles and reviews by Susannah Israel, Resident Artist Director, 2010 -2018.


Jon Gariepy: Stormy Weather.  New Ceramics: the European Ceramics Magazine, No 3, pp 8-11. 2012: Print


Transcendent: Michelle Gregor, David Kuraoka and Don Reitz. Ceramics: Art and Perception No. 88 pp 50-53 2011: 


Sustaining the Creative Spirit. The Studio Potter, V 39 No 1 pp 45-47. 2011: Print


Into the 21st Century: The Association of Clay & Glass Artists. Introduction. ACGA: San Carlos. 2011: Print

Las cadre at Black Bean Ceramic Art Center: the first 5 years. 2011.


“Atmospheric Firings: the Tradition of Acceptance. Exhibition review. ARTSHIFT: San Jose.


Intersections & Influences. Catalog essay, Ceramics Annual of America. John Natsoulas Press: Davis pp 2-8. Print: 2010


David Kuraoka: Legacy of Fire. Review of the artist’s retrospective exhibition at Pence Gallery, David. History of    Kuraoka’s teaching legacy at SF State University, 1971-2009, and interviews with participating artists.


Deep Impressions: the Sculptural Records of Richard Akers. Neue Keramik: the European Ceramics Magazine,

 No 3.   pp 17-19. 2008: Print


Shalene Valenzuela: Believe It Or Not. Davis, California: John Natsoulas Press, catalog pp 1-5 2009


Working Big: Sculpting Industrial Clay Pipe. Ceramics Today Dec 2004.


Pursuing the Creative Spirit. Studio Potter Mar. 2002: Print


Woodstoke 2000. Ceramics Technical Issue 12 2001: Print


Permanent Record: Clay Bodies. MFA Exhibition Thesis, San Francisco State University. 24 pages. 2000: Print

Susannah Israel: A Small and  Distant l

 Susannah Israel

 A Small and Distant Galaxy: The Fourth Quadrant

 Book I in the AfroFuturism series about human colonists in another galaxy.   Unexpected changes and challenges face the colonists after five hundred years

 living in the back corner of their new galactic home.


                                                     ORDER THE BOOK




BOOKS INC, ALAMEDA (books available in store)




Selected Publications

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