Beauty and Horror: Susan Crile

I’m thrilled to share the work of a thoughtful visual artist with you today: Susan Crile (

She has worked extensively on themes of conflict. Her series In Our Name depicts images of torture at the hand of U.S. forces. Her Abu Ghraib pieces show the now infamous photographs from that scandal in a different light. In Fires of War, she depicts the bombing of Baghdad in the early 90s. And in her 9/11 work she focuses on, well, 9/11.

Her website describes her work as moving “between the poles of beauty and horror,” and it does. It’s a smart place to be, because it seems she will never run out of material.

I wanted to introduce you to her paintings and I hope you will explore them on her website. In the meantime, enjoy this quote from her about the work she did on Abu Ghraib, taken from her interview with myartspace. (The rest of that interview is very powerful and includes a discussion about art’s inability to spur change in America):

I would first like to quote from Jean Amery’s At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities.

“Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel a home in the world. The shame of destruction cannot be erased. Trust in the world, which already collapsed in part at the first blow, but in the end, under torture, fully, will not be regained. That one’s fellow man was experienced as the antiman remains in the tortured person as accumulated horror. It blocks the view into a world in which the principle of hope rules.”

When the body is subjected to torture, the protection of the skin dissolves and the self no longer has a safe container; it is afloat and defenseless. I used white chalk to designate the fragility of the victims, who are like the ash-covered figures fleeing the World Trade Center, the body shells from Pompeii or the chalk outlines that mark the place of dead bodies at crime scenes. While the prisoners appear ethereal and are often deprived of sight, the interrogators are massive and accompanied by the accoutrements of power (the gloved hand, the leash, the painful shackles, the attack dogs) which includes the interrogators’ right to see and be seen- both their right to surveillance and the right to be photographed with their human trophies.

May we all become people who move “between the poles of beauty and horror” with eyes wide open and the tools of our art in our hands.

Thank you to Leah Thomason Bromberg – a fantastic painter in her own right – for introducing me to Susan and her lovely work.

(Photos: “Crouching in Terror” and “Fields of Fire” // Used with permission)

3 Responses to “Beauty and Horror: Susan Crile”
  1. Michael says:

    I just finished looking at the Abu Ghraib… My God, its incredible what we’ve become.

    • JCM says:

      Yes, her Abu Ghraib series is excellent. She portrays inhumanity and abuse of power incredibly well, considering it’s all in paint.

  2. Leah Thomason Bromberg says:

    Her work is amazing. Thanks again for sharing, Joanna.

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