In many ways, “Criss Cross: New Paintings,” Susan Bee’s current exhibit at Accola Griefen Gallery, has its origins in her 2006 exhibit, “Seeing Double: Paintings by Susan Bee and Miriam Laufer.” “Seeing Double” was a mother-daughter dialog between Bee and Laufer, who died in 1980. “Criss Cross” also begins with Laufer, through a painting titled “Ahava, Berlin.”
In the painting Bee stands in front of the Berlin Jewish Kinderheim (orphanage) where her mother lived from 1927 through 1934, before heading to Palestine. Both of Bee’s parents were from Berlin, and landed in Palestine as teenagers. The scarred walls of the old Kinderheim seem to reflect the scars inflicted by such a childhood, and the importance of this mother-daughter relationship as a source of Bee’s creative vision.
Much of Bee’s work is about relationships. Carl Jung wrote that the world of women is the world of relationship, what he called Eros, a great binder or psychic relatedness. Jung defined Eros as the connecting principle that fueled human relationships, as opposed to Freud, who thought of Eros as a sexual principle. In our politically correct world, the value of women as the carriers of relationships has been sadly dismissed.
Susan Bee is a brilliant writer — she founded the M/E/A/N/I/N/G anthology — along with Mira Schor, but also a psychologist of the painterly realm. Bee explores the spaces between the people as well as their psychic interiority. She paints her subject’s fixed gazes like deer in the headlights. Many of the couples in her paintings, whether of the same sex or the opposite sex, seem to come from film noir stills.