Obituary: Susan R. Winicour / Gifted artist, teacher with a personal touch
May 14, 1939 - July 17, 2013
July 20, 2013 4:00 AM
Susan B. Winicour
By Maggie Neil Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Rather than put her thoughts into words, her figures express her thoughts," said artist Adrienne Heinrich of her longtime friend and fellow artist, Susan Winicour, and added, "She didn't promenade her work about. It was all very personal. She was a true artist."
Ms. Winicour, whose work can be found in private collections as well as gallery shows in Pittsburgh and abroad, died on Wednesday of cancer. She was 74.
"She was always drawing people. On the train, in restaurants ... She'd try to do it without them knowing, but you could see them peeking," said Robin Simon, Ms. Winicour's daughter.
Ms. Winicour was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. She attended the Arts Students League and received scholarships to attend Syracuse University, where she studied fine arts. It was during her time at Syracuse that she also met her future husband, Jeffrey Winicour, at a Halloween party. She subsequently obtained a master's degree from the Teacher's College of Columbia University, and was among the first teachers of fine arts to be hired by the New York City Public School system.
Ms. Winicour moved to Pittsburgh when her husband, a physicist, received a position at the University of Pittsburgh. Ms. Winicour spent her time raising her two children, running avidly and working on her art.
"It really was everything to her. She really needed art in her life, and she worked hard at it," said Ellen Neuberg, owner of Gallery Chiz in Shadyside, where Ms. Winicour's work has been shown. The two women also were part of the Pittsburgh Group, in which artists come together to talk about and critique each other's work.
Primarily a figurative painter, Ms. Winicour felt that her greatest influence came from German Expressionism, a 20th century movement recognizable for its subjective perspective and emotional tone.
In one artist's statement, Ms. Winicour wrote, "I try to achieve a strong psychological or mental bond between subjects which are either still or in motion. Individually each figure has its own private place and contemplates its own destiny."
In discussing her work, fellow artists often talk about her ability to convey the emotions and relationships among people, and praise her use of color.
Ms. Winicour also experimented with other mediums and was a talented sewer, drawer and craftsman. One notable project is a series of vintage furniture, mainly chairs, that Ms. Winicour repainted.
"She would paint on canvas, cotton, whatever -- and paint people on them," Ms. Neuberg said. "And they were really terrific. A hard sell for some people, who said, 'I feel weird sitting on people's laps.' "
For almost a decade, Ms. Winicour spent three to six months a year near Berlin, Germany, where her husband pursued research at the Albert Einstein Institute. In Germany, Ms. Winicour began to explore the print medium, which she anomalously produced in black and white.
"Her prints were black and white and stunning," said Ms. Neuberg adding, "They looked kind of like an old-fashion boudoir scene. That's sort of the feeling. You'd have someone fainting on the couch. And there was a lot of detail in her work."
Both with and without her husband, Ms. Winicour traveled around the world, earning the John Delmonte Painting Fellowship to go to Lucca, Italy. She also studied at the Institute Allende in Mexico. She began a series of visual travel diaries, in which she might paint over the text of books in a foreign language.
"Whenever she traveled, she would bring back gifts for friends," said illustrator Ilene Winn-Lederer, echoing friends and family who attest to her kindness and thoughtfulness toward others.
"You couldn't say anything bad about anyone while she was nearby. She would defend them," Ms. Simon said.
Ms. Winn-Lederer added, "She was an astute observer of people, and adept at capturing those moments, but Susan was also a fabulous listener. She had a gift of being in the moment with people, and that was reflected in her work and her life philosophy."
Ms. Winicour is survived by her husband; her children, Daniel Winicour and Robin Simon; her sister, Carole Slusky; and five grandchildren.
Correction, July 21, 2013: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Ellen Neuberg's role with the Eastside Gallery. Also, Ms. Winicour's middle initial was incorrect.