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Soshana – Life and Work

The artist Soshana takes her name from the flower that is known as lily of the valley in Hebrew (shoshana) and to the Indians a lotus flower, and reflects her appreciation of nature’s bounty. She says of her work that “you cannot give more than you have within yourself. But it is suffering that helps you grow and develop, the struggle and conflict in life. Even the plants seem to struggle for light and space….I believe in a greater spirit of nature, from which each person is a part, here to play his role in life.” Soshana has created her own fate and molded her life into one that merged reality and surrealism as in her paintings. She has traveled near and far constantly pushing herself to the limits and searching for truth and the answers to life’s struggles.  

Soshana, born in Vienna in 1927 to a solid middle-class Jewish family as Susanne Schüller, was constantly subjected to traumatic events and instability. Due to Hitler’s invasion in March 1938, she was forced to flee with her family and ended up in New York in 1941. During WWII, she studied painting in London and New York and continued studying with the painter Beys Afroyim, whom she married in 1945 and had one son, Amos. She and Afroyim painted many well known personalities including Arnold Schoenberg, Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, Leon Feuchtwanger, Hans Eisler, and Otto Klemperer. After her first major exhibition in Havana in 1948, Soshana moved to Paris, the avant-garde art centre of the time and she distinguished herself among other artists including Picasso and Giacometti (who both painted her), Brancusi, Chagall and Sartre, for her strong charisma, her eccentric appearance and her distinct style. Her work was exhibited in renowned galleries and in 1953 began to work with the well-known Swiss gallery owner Max Bollag.  

Her travels took her to Israel in the 50s; India and the Far East in 1956; China and Japan, where she studied abstract art and calligraphy as well as Eastern philosophy and religion. She then travelled to South America and Africa in1958-1959, where, among others, she met Dr. Albert Schweitzer. After staying in Mexico for a while, Soshana returned to Paris where she worked in Gauguin’s former studio. When the modern art scene relocated to New York, Soshana did so also (1974), after several visits to Israel. In New York, she became close with Adolph Gottlieb and other abstract expressionists. Since 1985, Soshana has been living in Vienna where she continues to paint.  

Known sometimes as “Cassandra of the canvas,” her melancholic introverted nature together with a passionate temperament enabled her to create a large body of work documenting a variety of artistic styles reflecting movements and world events. After the change in style from figurative to abstract in the post World War II period, her work reflected her reaction to the traumatic events she experienced. Soshana created her own visual language using strong expressionist strokes bringing to the surface her subconscious fears and hopes. Her work contains an underlying insecurity and existential yearning for a better time with moments of vivid clarity and hope. 

Reba Wulkan, Curator of Contemporary Exhibitions, Yeshiva University Museum, New York, 2008