My Thoughts Eat Leaves - 2019

Representing a considerable breakthrough in my process, resulting from my complete inability to any longer "paint inside the lines," I began creating simple handcrafted sculptures using cardboard. Indescribably liberating after a very uncomfortable year of not knowing how or with what materials I wished to make my work, I suddenly found that I had given myself permission to play.

Installing a small group of these pieces in one of my studios and I continued to add to this and rearrange over a period of five years. Employing a plethora of mediums, many of which were not traditional artists' materials, I used pompom, rhinestones, sculpey, pipe cleaners, and aluminum foil to name a few. I had one rule: not to edit. And I wanted the work to be ridiculous, inventive, open and free.

Over time the space filled with upwards of 50 pieces with titles such as Corner Corset, Little Craft, Birdie, Pink Scramble, Rattle, Stealth, Ship, Silly, Thing One, Two and Three, Frenchie, and What Not, to name a few.

The title for this installation came from a dream in which I was speaking to a large group of art world professionals and one had asked me to describe my art making "process.' After struggling for some time I threw up my hands and responded, "you know it's really very simple, you see, my thoughts eat leaves."

Geometric Abstraction, 2008

In 1997 I became interested in translating the inner quiet and tranquility I was experiencing in my meditation practice into the language of paint. I have since engaged in an attempt to reach beyond the boundaries of the dimensional world, working within the geometry of pure form.

Invigorated by the contradiction of the endless possibilities available within a rigorous reductive process, early explorations led to a body of work called "Tessallations," in which I created geometric patterns which tessellate, exploiting the optical effects manufactured by these relationships.

Contrasting colors and the repetition in patterns act upon the brain, affecting the way the brain interprets the visual information it is receiving. 'By-products' such as haloes, 'ghosts' and reversals appear and are seen to dance across the painting field. These effects activate the space between the viewer and the picture plane, transforming a static situation into an event of movement, rhythm and vibration. Although, initially a visual phenomenon, this can give rise to rhythms which can be felt in one's own being. This feeling is analogous to the feeling/state of deep meditation. Rather than trying to illustrate this 'state,' my aim is to trigger it, or at least direct the viewer's attention toward it.

My series "Dynamic Equilibrium," which began in 2004, explores the employment of singular and fundamental ingredients, exacting compositional contingencies and color relationships reaching for a balance between tension and rest which is, hopefully, vibrant and resilient while simultaneously peaceful and soothing. This hermetic work, evolving from a contemplative internal and visual process, requires an investment of time to allow for the color harmonies and compositional pulse to become activated.

The following series "Cluster," "Stacks," and "Ether" included previous concerns as well as forms based on geometric configurations, a relational interactivity of compositional tensions and intricate color relationships. In all of these works I am reaching for a feeling of suspension and expansion, creating the illusion of being liberated from the dimensions of time and space. I embrace the challenge of addressing the concerns in a two dimensional format.

Statement, 2023

I am happiest when I have no idea where I’m going. I am content in discovery, at my best when I am at play. I have a voice in my head and if I am focused enough to hear it, clearly says, yes or no, stop or go. It doesn’t go very well in the studio if I don’t follow that direction.

I have experienced, what some think, are drastic shifts in my work. But I have come to see all of these iterations as one body of work. I have never abandoned a ‘style’ or a material but simply taken a slight turn down another path of inquiry. Present throughout all of these investigations are preoccupations with jewel-like color, pattern, repetition, the haloes and ‘ghosts’ brought forth in optics, rhythm and light.

I think I’m trying to say something. Something about spirit, the light, wonder. Something about how I want to feel and where I’d like to go. And I want to say it with the clarity of a bell, a herald, in a whisper, or a symphony. I want to speak of hope and serenity, while never forgetting the unendurable pain and terror. I want to make nonsense, order, complexity and fragility and I want it to sound like the song of the diaphanous wings of the Lacewing moth.


Ether, July 2008

To behold the paintings in Susan Marie Dopp's Ether series is to be quietly beckoned into a strange new world. As inviting as it is unfamiliar, the world that opens up before us is a world of pure form, a world that transcends our usual sense of space and time and hovers somewhere in a dimension of its own. The inhabitants of this world, Dopp's compositional elements, are geometric forms -- but only in the broadest sense, for this is no ordinary geometry. The shapes, aggregates and clusters that occupy this dimension are of a higher order of complexity than the circles and squares of Euclidean geometry. And as irregular as the forms are, a discernible order asserts itself in the reappearance of many of the same elements across the series, suggesting a kind of symbolic language whose meaning defies logical understanding. Logic and reason being inadequate to the task, we realize if we are to enter into this world, another kind of knowing will be needed.

A universal order is established in Dopp's realm by way off a subtle irregular grid that pervades the space of all the paintings. Barely visible from a distance, the delicate lines that make up this grid suggest threads in a kind of metaphysical fabric that renders the world a unified whole. By virtue of this all-pervasive grid, we know we are not gazing into an empty space, punctured here and there by forms, but rather into a space that has as much substance as the forms it envelopes. Subtle fluctuations in the weight of the lines indicate that this is no dead mechanical space; it is very much alive, and its pulse activates everything it contains, sending subtle vibrations to all its inhabitants.

Nothing is arbitrary inside this world. Within each painting, the forms and configurations are suspended in an exquisitely complex equipoise, replete with tensions and counter-tensions, all perfectly balanced in relation to each other. One senses that the displacement of a single form just a hair's breadth to the right or the left would upset the whole cosmic order, that even the slightest rupture would send the symphonic harmony spiraling into cacophony. In its inherent rightness, each piece seems to represent a singular and unique moment in the other dimension, a small sliver of whose internal dynamics we are privileged to witness.

And yet the privilege of observation is not all these suspended moments have to offer. Indeed, these paintings are more than mere windows onto a world we can never know directly. Given sufficient time and the willingness to let one's self go, one can be taken into the realm of these strange forms, into a full participation in the rhythms and vibrations of their animate space. For as transcendent and otherworldly as this work is, its emphatic materiality keeps it at the same time firmly rooted in this world, in the world of the body. Beginning with the activation of the senses, the work's rich colors and warm, skin-like textures gradually seep into the innermost rhythms of the body, whose movements begin to fall into correspondence with those coursing through the work. In this state of sympathetic identification with the work, its tensions, pulsations, and vibrations become our tensions, pulsations and vibrations.

It is ultimately in these higher tensions between physical and metaphysical, here-and-now and beyond, that we achieve access to the work's transcendent realm, surely we have moved beyond the mind/matter dualism that stands at the threshold of the spiritual. In its intimations of a higher unity, the experience of Dopp's work is a truly transcendent experience.

Taney Roniger

Artist, Essayist and Professor of Fine Art, School of Visual Arts, NY

San Francisco Bay Guardian - October, 1988

"Dreamscapes: Dopp's works turn the waking world topsy-turvy"


If an interesting person can be predicted on the basis of his or her dreams, then Oakland artist Susan Marie Dopp must be downright fascinating. Although she won this year's Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art Award, Dopp is still relatively unknown, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has mounted a stimulating exhibit to introduce her to the general public.

In the 22 surreal vignettes on view through Nov. 13, we are invited to enter Dopp's extremely personal, sometimes bizarre, yet endlessly provocative dreamland. Like the often strange or surprising imagery unleashed as one nods off to sleep, hers is a world in which the rules of the Newtonian universe simply do not apply: what goes up may stay up or vanish like a puff of smoke. Ostensibly solid objects like tables become transparent, yet are capable of supporting weighty things, and unseen figures cast enormous shadows, while readily visible ones cast none whatsoever. Hers is a realm chock-full of inexplicable events that turn the humdrum predictability of the waking world topsy-turvy. Quite simply, this is a place ruled by the illogical, the irrational and the fantastic.

Besides possessing the ability to allow her unusually fertile imagination free rein, her success is partly due to the way in which she boldly strips away layer after layer of art historical sediment and is able to reassemble these disparate slices into something utterly unique. What might easily have ended up a hopeless hodgepodge of art historical pastiche in the hands of lesser artists emerges here as a highly distinctive panache.

In other paintings, the artist appears as a female protagonists clad in a transparent magenta gown. In one instance, while pregnant with pear, she pulls a cart containing a blue serpent struggling to become erect, while her young son has become little more than a fragile bubble about to burst. In others, she's astride an enormous purple dove as a pear twice her size rests lazily across from her, or a lilliputian pawn languidly perched atop a chessboard as a pair of phallic carrots poke through and point threateningly in her direction. It's as if these hallucinatory labyrinths are a means of eroticizing her dormant personal demons.

Dopp is an exciting artist blessed with a Promethean imagination, and hopefully this show at the Museum of Modern Art will expose her work to a wider audience. In any event, if the most exciting thing in your dreams lately is what to wear to work the next day, an hour or so in front of Dopp's engaging dreamscapes ought to liven things up considerably.

-Harry Roche