CalArts Mourns the Passing of Animator and Painter Suzan Pitt

Visionary animator, painter and longtime CalArts School of Film/Video faculty member Suzan Pitt passed away June 16 in New Mexico. She was 75.

Pitt, a Kansas City native, graduated with a BFA in painting from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1965. Her decadent, psychedelic, painterly style bears the mark of her lifelong travels between the U.S., Mexico and Europe, and her filmography provides a spectacular survey of myriad animation techniques.

Pitt taught at Harvard University and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design prior to joining the CalArts Experimental Animation faculty in 1998. In a remembrance, Experimental Animation faculty member Maureen Selwood writes of her colleague Pitt:

Suzan was a singular artist and one of the most significant contributors to the art of animation in the last century. She provided us with a perspective of seeing animation as something that broadened a whole spectrum of inclusionary methods: opera, painting, performance, murals, theater sets and finally painted art coats inspired by the street life of New York City, a signage of urban rumble ….

She believed that within us, we had the ability to unfold the way we dream. That each image leads us to the next image, giving birth to dense, often hyper-illusionistic scenes. She gave us her theatrical dreams through work executed with extraordinary self-control—showing us that written or verbal language was inadequate.

(Read Selwood’s full remembrance here.)

Pitt’s signature exploration of womanhood, sexuality and contemporary societal issues are on grand display in her seminal work Asparagus. The film, a masterfully rendered display of hand-drawn organic imagery, premiered in 1979 in an installation at the Whitney Museum. Asparagus screened for two years with David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), as well as in midnight shows at the Waverly Theater and the NuArt theater in Los Angeles.

A number of Pitt’s films have been preserved by The Academy Film Archive, including Asparagus (1979), Joy Street (1995), Whitney Commercial (1973), Bowl, Garden, Theatre, Marble Game (1970) and Crocus (1971). Her paintings hang in the collections of The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Ludwig Museum in Germany and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her work has also been exhibited in venues like the Venice Biennale, the Whitney Museum of American Arts and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

“Suzan was also the best ally to have when facing hardship,” notes CalArts Character Animation faculty member Masha Vasilkovsky (Film/Video MFA 98). “She was a true friend and a passionate helper. Many a time Suzan showed up on the scene when I was facing a mountain to overcome: putting together an exhibition or preparing to teach a new class. With zeal and without fail, Suzan would throw herself to the task, whole day and entire night, until completed.”

Pitt was the recipient of a Creative Capital Moving Image Award, a Rockefeller Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and three production grants from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). She was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by Animafest Zagreb in Croatia.

Read more tributes to Pitt in Animation Magazine, Animation World Network and Cartoon Brew. Watch a documentary of the artist’s life and work in Suzan Pitt: Persistence of Vision (2006) by Blue and Laura Kraning on Vimeo.

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  1. Mark Mars // //

    I so admire Suzan Pitt’s work! And had always hoped to become better acquainted with her. I am shocked at the news of it, today and wish id kept better in touch at least via Facebook, but all id managed to permit myself were a posting or two on her wall! (One, if memory serves, was RE Echo Park in the rain; she’d posted a picture with a caption, i believe. I posted what now, looking back, was a rather unpleasant and unhappy comment in which i cautioned that any rain we had in Hollywood were composed only of glycerine! I am now so sorry and feel very unhappy indeed. I offer my condolences and my commiseration. Goddess Bless Ms Suzan Pitt; she has always been one of my heroes.