Susannah Israel has a gritty yet passionate view of humanity, drawn from city life. Activist from birth, Israel is an artist, writer and educator on a mission for truth. Her sculptures confront assumptions of race, gender and culture. She was born in New York City, raised by a painter and a writer; as a young student she received a scholarship to Pratt Art Institute to study ceramics with Byron Temple. She attended San Francisco State University for her B.A., majoring in art and chemistry, and returned to complete an M.F.A. in Ceramics after working independently for eight years. Israel began writing art reviews in 2000 to support and showcase the talent being excluded by galleries and museums. While teaching college courses in art (2001-2018), she advocated fiercely for all students, taking on advising, writing curriculum and serving as chair, even though she was an adjunct with no insurance.
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.
Israel’s sculpture is widely exhibited, appearing in the collections of the Archie Bray Foundation, Auckland Museum, the Mint Museum’s American Ceramics Collection, Mission Clay, Gladding,McBean, the American Museum of Ceramic Art, the Yingge Ceramics Museum, and others around the world. She has a dozen public and sited pieces in the US, from Texas to California. Selected career distinctions include a US Artist Grant, the Fletcher Challenge Premier Award, a Virginia Groot Foundation Award, the Vivika Heino Award, NCECA scholarship to Archie Bray and the 1st Annual Ernie Kim Award. Israel has been artist-in-residence at the Archie Bray, Black Bean Studios, Mission Clay Art & Industry, the Mendocino Art Center, the Jentel Foundation, and 7th Sculptor-On-Campus at CSU, Bakersfield. Israel is a frequent visiting artist and has given many lectures and workshops throughout the Western states. At home in Oakland, she works in her studio at Vulcan Foundry studios.
There is an inherent paradox when working with so responsive a material as clay. Traces of touch – fingerprints, knuckle marks – are formed, moment by moment, with relentless fidelity. Such intimate contact of hand and clay remains far beyond the process, beyond even the life of the artist; it is a permanent record of human impermanence.