Susan J. Harlan’s passion for books and painting are intertwined with her restless love for travel and adventure. As a young woman, she traveled across Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific with a small Florida-based circus. After touring for most of a year, she parted company with the circus to join the crew of a Danish, gaff-rigged ketch. During that North Atlantic crossing, she experienced the extremes of camaraderie and solitude, tedious calm and terrifying storms. The voyage ended safely but left her with an unexpected and sobering glimpse of her own mortality. Her awareness of the brevity of human life appears metaphorically throughout her work.
These days Harlan is a university professor, wife and mother, and does most of her traveling aboard commercial airliners. Her wanderlust and fascination with maps and navigation still remain, and as always, she continues to keep an extensive journal of her travels. She records and then uses words and symbols from the places she has been. They permeate her work and range from the universal, to the personal; from the available, to the just out of reach.
In her paintings, Harlan translates images, words, colors, and textures into a fiction about the actual process of seeing and being. Keeping an Eye on the Invisible
by Merleau Ponty, has been a source of rich inspiration for her: by observing and seeking a place in many stratas, a space reveals its time and moment. Harlan is currently investigating this idea in an installation incorporating books, paintings, and sculpture. She is housing her collection of specimens (a celestial array of small things scientifically displayed with mythological symbols and stories) collected over the years from different parts of the world.
Harlan is currently a professor at Portland State University. She teaches in the graduate program which she revived, and now heads the painting program. She is also responsible for designing and instituting a book arts program that has become very popular.
Prior to her 1992 move to Portland, Oregon, Harlan was an editorial cartoonist for USA Today
, responsible for a daily opinion page (political) cartoon. Between 1984 and 1990, she also worked as a Federal and Supreme Court artist for CBS and the Washington Post
, producing daily drawings for these national news services. After working for the Corcoran School of Art as a professor and exhibiting nationally and internationally, she moved to the Pacific Northwest with her son, Jordan, her husband, Richard, and two cats.
Biography courtesy of Susan J. Harlan
Hampshire College, Amherst, MA, USA (1975-1976)
University of Miami, Miami, FL, USA (1973-1975, 1972)
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA (1968-1971)
Painting Award (Honorable Mention), Oregon Biennial, Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR, USA (1994)
Library Fellows Award, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC, USA (1993)
John Klinkenberg Printmaking Award, University of Miami, Miami, FL, USA (1975)
Solo Exhibition of MFA Thesis Work, The Lowe Art Museum, Miami, FL, USA (1975)