"Mi dolor de exilio es tan grande que cubre todo mi cuerpo.

Muevo un dedo del pie y sufro".

Lejos de casa

Susy Dembo: Experimentation without limits / Interview by viviana marcela iriart, Caracas, July 2000

KUAN YIN  diosa de la misericordia  © Susy Dembo 

"And, somehow, when you return to where you were born, there’s something, a smell, a sense, even if it was as bad as the Holocaust, that makes you feel that you belong to that place. I remembered the good and the bad things, but I liked the city. "S.D.

Susy Dembo, girl, in the ship Orbita, 1939: "Finally safe from the war" she wrote.

Susy Dembo, a Venezuelan artist born in Vienna, is part of that small constellation of stars within plastic arts that has transcended the borders of Venezuela, receiving awards such as the International Award for the Art of Incision in Biella, Italy.

Her second individual exhibition took place in Madrid in 1966 and since that moment, her art hasn’t stopped circling the world: exhibitions in Paris, New York, Washington, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Puerto Rico, Río de Janeiro, Bogota, Cali, Poland, England, Yugoslavia, Switzerland ... and of course Venezuela.

Proudly representing her adoptive country, she participated in biennials and exhibitions in Switzerland, England, Germany, France, Poland, Colombia, Puerto Rico. Susy Dembo, the multifaceted artist, never rests. In 2004, she published her memoirs book "Golem of Prague", a wonderful story of a woman that experienced human bestiality as a child but never lost her capacity to love.
Her heart, tired from so much effort but full of youth and wishes, sometimes asks for a break and that is the only reason why she hardly made any individual exhibitions in recent years. But while resting, she doesn’t stop creating or learning new techniques of creating prints, painting and collage. Her new paintings, which appear along with this interview, are expected to be soon hanging in a gallery.
Susy ‘s public is also looking forward to it. Eagerly.

At five years old, Susy Dembo had to leave her native Austria, due to the rise of Nazism, which took away her country and nationality.  She arrived in Bolivia, a country she loves because it gave her back her humanity. She lived there until adolescence, and then she settled in Venezuela and integrated so fully that while listening to her talk, it is impossible to think that she is not from Caracas. That ability to assimilate accents and cultures is reflected in her work and her life. In Susy, the drama that split her childhood doesn’t show; she is cheerful, restless, curious. Her work also has these qualities, combined with a touch of magic and mystery.

Susy Dembo started painting in 1960. Two years later she ventured into enamel. In 1972 she began to make prints, and in 1988 she started working with glass. Her work, however, is  one, and perhaps the secret is that everything is done with the same passion and talent.

A sunny morning, under the watchful eyes of her last paintings, we chatted at her workshop in Prados del Este in Caracas, drinking Tibetan tea and eating delicious Venezuelan cheeses.

 - Susy, how did you get started?
- I started painting rocks in the sea, like all crazy girls at the club Puerto Azul. The stones were very beautiful while rough at the same time, so I looked for a workshop of art with enamel and found that of Francisco Porras; there I studied when I had money and when I didn’t, I studied at the Free Art Workshop. I was a good enameler and my work with enamel was liked very much. But then, impatience led me in 1971, to study engraving at the University Simón Bolívar and with Nena Palacios. I also studied with Luis Chacón and many years later with Candido Millan, I learned glass techniques. But printing pretty much took almost fifteen years of my life.

- Studying it or working on it?

- Both, because you can’t make prints without studying, since it is a perfect chemistry technique. If you want absolute neatness and perfection, which took me a lot to acquire, you have to do it by the book: with a press, an engraving table, all the tools, water to soak in a tub, blotting paper and everything else. That takes a lot of time.

- Fifteen years dedicated to prints, where you gained great recognition. How was your transition to painting?

- Actually, I always painted. I studied with Francisco and Pilar Aranda, my Spanish professors, and then I painted still life because I didn’t have any knowledge to do anything else. They told me that still life wasn’t enough; they saw the human figure in me. But I would not venture into this area, because it was very difficult and I did not want to risk it. So I continued with enamel and still life, landscapes of Ávila. But then I dedicated myself entirely to printing and I no longer painted, nor enameled.

- You fell in love with printing.

- Yes, because it's alchemical, it’s magical, it’s dark and you have to work hard in order to reach satisfaction and for me, it’s always very mysterious. It's like working at a workshop in the sixteenth century.

- But you returned to painting by creating spectacular golden women, adorned with stones and other elements that you exhibited in 1995 at the French Alliance of Caracas creating great impact. Where do these women come from?

- From a trip I made to Egypt in 1990. Before leaving, I was already working with gold colors, but while I was there and saw flat figures, those staring women, those watchful pharaohs, I became fascinated and started painting these women. Egypt inspired me, gave me the color, the frontal part of painting, because in Egypt, figures are placed sideways and I loved that, so then I bought paintings, stones there and worked not only in paintings but also doing many prints. And in 1998 I had the pleasure to exhibit them at the Print Biennial in Cairo.

- And I read in the reviews that you had great success.

- Yes, it was a very exciting moment in my life. It was the same with the paintings because this type of work had never been seen in Caracas before.  I’m not saying, of course, that I invented them, that no one had painted something like this but these women came from within, they were not copies of the Egyptian figures, they were just an inspiration and when I showed them, people were amazed because it was a different type of painting. Some of the paintings had light that spun when illuminated. I thought I would to sell many, but it wasn’t so.  The Ambassador of France, the Cultural Attaché, the Director of the Alliance kindly purchased one painting, and sold two or three more paintings. So I brought the rest of the paintings to my workshop and the day I had finished packing them for storage, I received a call from a collector and he bought the entire collection, fifteen paintings, a week after the exhibition had finished.

- It was your highest point as a painter; the successful  printer was also an exceptional painter.

- But I did not feel comfortable with my technique. I acquired assurance after 1999, when for health reasons I had to stay in New York for seven weeks. Then I found the shop of a teacher from MOMA, which rents space for working artists and there I started to improve quickly with my painting skills, I noticed my improvement every day because I painted with pleasure every day, eight to ten hours. The atmosphere there is very rewarding; there are many artists, some very renowned and nude models. Since then, every year I go to New York and spend two months painting at the workshop. The teacher passes beside you and may make a comment, either you accept it or not.

- What are you working on now?

- In a new series. I have twelve or thirteen paintings for the next exhibition and I’m very excited about this series.

- Where did the inspiration come from?

- I always walk down the street with a notebook in hand. When something gets my attention I write it down and once I get home, I start to paint from that impression.

- In 1995 you had your first solo exhibition in Vienna, invited by the Austrian government, which also gave you back your nationality. How did you feel having an exposition in your home country after being expelled from there by the Nazis?

- Very happy. I am Jewish and the Austrian government decided to honor Jewish Austrian artists whom had not be taken to concentration camps, but had to leave Austria. It was a wonderful experience; people from schools came to ask me how I did the prints, I was treated very well and sold everything. And somehow when you return to where you were born, there is something, a smell, a sense, even if it was bad like the Holocaust, it makes you feel that you belong to that site. I remembered good and bad things, but I liked the city. They are esoteric, the new generation is new age, they are wonderful, creative youths and concerned about human rights.

- You made peace with your country of origin.

- I can’t forget. But I do not mind anymore. I have no anger. I don’t forget what they did to me, but I feel good there. And they understand that I can’t forget. I like music, art, their conversation. Now, when I see the concentration camps I don’t like them.

- You lived in Bolivia from seven to fourteen, what do you remember of that time?

- It was beautiful because I imagine it's like living in Tibet, isolated by the altitude. We were very poor and perhaps because of that, we so appreciated everything that Bolivia gave to us, which was also a very poor country but had, like Venezuela, an amazing natural beauty and a breathtaking change of atmosphere. There was enough food, there was the cinema every week, but if you ask me how were my clothes, my answer would be humble, but my house was beautiful because my father wanted to live well.
There I started my relationship with painters, but I didn’t paint; I danced tap and danced with the cholas, I liked indigenous music. My father and I used to go to the top of the mountain with the Indians (men and women), and sometimes we found archaeological pieces, but they were not looking for that, they went on a spiritual quest that at the time I did not understand. But I loved entering the houses of the indians and there never was a difference between them and us, despite our blonde hair and blue eyes.

- Susy, have you ever thought of creating a foundation that carries your name to preserve your work?

- No, that would be for my daughters to do, if they want to. What I want is to give my pieces to a foundation, but I'll wait until the Venezuelan crisis is over, because during a crisis, you become very sentimental and suddenly you give things to people that don’t know how to receive them. I want to donate all the tools to make prints, enamel kilns, glass furnaces, paintings, work material, for boys and girls from Venezuela that have no money to buy them.

- How are you feeling right now with your artistic career?

- Right now I feel this will be the best moment of my life. Painting isn’t easy, but my pieces are flowing and I love what I do, I can spend hours here.

- Does a piece require a specific amount of time?

- Not for me. This one (points to a picture) took me three weeks. This other one (points to another picture) took me five years and I never finished it. But yesterday I saw the woman's eyes and felt that now I can finish it. I finish one painting and immediately start another. But I can’t paint two pictures at the same time.

- Did you ever imagine you'd receive so much recognition for your work?

- No. I did it because I loved it, but I never looked toward the future. I went day to day. Until I had the opportunity to make my first exhibition. From that moment I never stopped. I am very happy with the recognition and I have a saying: An award is an award. It doesn’t matter if it's the first or third.

- Are you proud of what you have accomplished?

- I feel I could have done more.  I should have worked more and that’s what I'm doing now. Now I want to learn more about computers, working with Photo Shop to incorporate it into my paintings. I am also studying mythology and alchemy.

- You are still hungry for knowledge.

-I always am interested in everything.

- That's what keeps you so young.

- I'd say that's the only way ... to grow old well.

Susy Dembo laughs and her little eyes sparkle like a happy child, her face lights up like a teenager. So I think of her joy of living and her desire to continue learning will never allow her to become old. No, Susy, you'll never be old. Although your walk becomes slower due to illness, old age will never reach you. Years will pass by, though, to the delight of everyone who has had the privilege to meet you.

© viviana marcela iriart, Caracas, July 2000
© Translated from Spanish by Gabriel Santamaría. Contact:  nuevomun@aim.com

Thank you very much, Gabriel Santamaría, for your loving help.

Central Park, New York,  1980

Solo Exhibitions

1965 Gallery El Muro, Caracas, Venezuela.
1966 Gallery El Bosco, Madrid, Spain.
1968 Gallery and Tourism Office, of Venezuela New York. USA.
1973 Gallery Maison Bernard, Caracas, Venezuela.
1975 Gallery Maison Bernard, Caracas, Venezuela.
1977 Gallery Cruz del Sur, Caracas, Venezuela.
1979 Gallery Durban, Barquisimeto, Venezuela.
1980 Gallery at the New York Consulate, USA.
1982 Gallery Venezuela and Museum of Contemporary Art, Bogotá, Colombia.
1983 Portraits of Bolívar. Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venezuela.
1988 The Occult in Art. Siete Siete Gallery, Caracas, Venezuela.
1989 Gravura. Venezuela Gallery, Gallery Botaforo. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
1991 Museum of the Americas. Tracing the Other OAS. Washington DC
1995 Wie Weit Ist Wien. Junge Kunst Werkstart Gallery Prieler Hoschek,
             March, Vienna, Austria.
1995 Behind the Magic Screen of Light, Caracas, Venezuela.
2004 Publishes the "Golem of Prague" Bookstore Buscón. Caracas, Venezuela
2011 Gallery Durbán: “Susy Dembo Prints and Painting ", Caracas.
2013 Museum Kern: "Susy Dembo and the Mysteries of Print", Caracas.

Group Exhibitions

1960-1965 Official Hall of the Museum of Fine Arts, Caracas, Venezuela.
1965 Gallery El Techo de la  Ballena, Caracas, Venezuela.
1972-1983 Hall Michelena. Valencia, Venezuela.
1977 Fourth Gallery. Rome, Italy.
1979 Hall of Fire Arts, Valencia. Venezuela.
1979 Gallery Nuevo Espacio. Maracaibo, Venezuela.
1979 AVAP Exhibition, Caracas, Venezuela.
1985 Graph of Venezuela. Library of the Museum of Modern Art. Nueva York.
1987 Graph of Venezuela. Embassy of Venezuela in Paris, France.
1987 Graph of Venezuela, Tel-Aviv, Israel.
Print Biennial 1989. San Juan de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico.
1992 Biennial prints of Barquisimeto, Venezuela.
1995 Biennial in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
1995-2000 Various group exhibitions of graphics.
1998. CAF.  Latin America in a Footprint Andean Development Corporation.
                      Caracas, Venezuela
2000 Masks for a smile. Israelite Union of Caracas.
2003 First Exhibition of Hebraic Art. Auction. Caracas
2004 Hebraic Art Hall. Auction. Caracas
2003 Auction in aid of Cancer Research. Canadian Embassy.
2004 Auction in aid of Cancer Research. Canadian Embassy.
2004 Exhibition of engraving. Mexican Cultural Office. Washington DC
2004 Exhibition of miniatures TAGA Caracas, Venezuela
2004 Humboldt Association. Ist Weit Wie Wien. Caracas, Venezuela
2006 Center of Fine Arts. Printmaking Collective. Maracaibo, Venezuela
2006 Hebraic Art Hall. Caracas, Venezuela
2008 Hebraic Art Hall. Caracas, Venezuela

Represented Venezuela in
Lo que amo  © Susy Dembo

1977 First National Exhibition of Prints, Maracaibo, Venezuela.
1977 Latin American Print Biennial, Maracaibo, Venezuela.
1978 August Hall, Museum of Colombian Contemporary Art in Bogotá,
1979 Venezuela at UNESCO, Paris, France.
1979 Graphic Biennial 1979, Poland.
1981 Fifth Latin American Print Biennial, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
1981 Fourth Biennial of Graphic Arts, Cali, Colombia.
1982 World Print Show, Bedford. Yorkshire, England.
1982 Second Biennial of Latin American Engraving Arts, Maracaibo, Venezuela.
1983 Sixth Print Biennial , San Juan, Puerto Rico.
1983 Fifteenth International Biennial of Graphic Art, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia.
1984, Intergraphic Berlin, Germany.
1985 Tenth International Triennial of Graphic Painting, Grenchen, Switzerland.
1985 Artists for Venezuela. Amnesty International. Text of Martin Luther King, Jr.
1985 VII Biennial of San Juan. Latin American and Caribbean Engraving, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


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