Rachel Cohen

Suellen Rocca's Cha-Cha Couple Dance, Dance

Suellen Rocca039s ChaCha Couple Dance Dance

Suellen Rocca, Cha-Cha Couple, 1967. Smart Museum of Art. Detail photos Rachel Cohen.

Last week, I discovered that Suellen Rocca had died in March of this year. Her paintings have been on my mind since, and I want to share this wonderful, exuberant one, called Cha-Cha Couple, which I saw many times at the Smart Museum of Art during their Time is Now show about art on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s.

The painting is quite large and nearly square. 71 1/2 by 67 1/2 inches. It was first exhibited at the Hyde Park Arts Center, which did a lot of shows of work by the Chicago Imagists. Rocca was an important figure in this movement and was interested in sharp delineation, and images found in popular culture.

The Hyde Park Arts Center is a few blocks from us, and ordinarily the children would be in summer camp there. So imagining this painting in its original exhibition gives me a delightful feeling of a hazy summer night and paint recently dried and how it would have leapt off the wall and been ready to dance.

The central dancing figures are based on an advertisement for the Arthur Murray Dance Studio, a popular national chain of dance studios.

I took many square format pictures because that seemed the right way to think about its spatial geometry.

It is a great painting. Completely alive.

Suellen Rocca, I won't get to tell you this, but I love your work

Suellen Rocca I won039t get to tell you this but I love your work

Suellen Rocca, Bare-Shouldered Beauty, etching, 1967. Smart Museum of Art. Detail photos Rachel Cohen.

Because she was long based in Chicago and was a central figure in the Hairy Who, Suellen Rocca's work has been on display in different shows at the Smart Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago over the last several years, and I've had a chance to sit with several pieces.

I liked them immediately, the way you like some people the first time you see them across a room.

I heard from people who knew her as the curator and director of exhibitions at Elmhurst College that she was very generous, very interesting. I read interviews that made me like the way she thought about being a mother, being an artist. She said somewhere that some of the things from books and educational materials for children are a part of what she thinks about in terms of form, sequence, scale.

I told myself that I would write a letter of admiration, perhaps figure out a way to do an article about her work.

This evening, scanning through some folders, I came upon this, which I really relished. It is called Bare-Shouldered Beauty, and is from 1967. This is one of a series of states of the etching owned by the Smart Museum of Art. I think it is related to some important paintings from that time, at least one of which has the same title, a title also used in recent shows of her work and essays about it.

I thought I would post the pictures and went to check a couple of things and found her obituary.

She died on March 26th of this year, just as everything shut down. Her gallery, Matthew Marks, says it was pancreatic cancer.

I plan to go on thinking about her work. I feel we are the beginning of a very promising acquaintance and that I will look to her and learn. I really wish I had written the letter.