Suellen Rocca was one of the original members of the Hairy Who, a group of six visionary artists who first exhibited together in Chicago in 1966. Early in her career she developed a unique vocabulary of symbols — wedding rings, purses, and palm trees — inspired by advertising imagery. In her paintings and drawings she often arranged these images in repetitive patterns, creating compositions that have been likened to modern hieroglyphs. When asked about the sources of the imagery in her early paintings, Rocca cited “the cultural icons of beauty and romance expressed by the media that promised happiness to young women.” Since 1980 her work increasingly combined this iconography with allusions to the body, animals, and plant life.
Suellen Rocca (1943–2020) graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1964 and soon began exhibiting with five former classmates under the name Hairy Who. The group’s exhibitions, which took place in Chicago and other cities between 1966 and 1969, drew national and international attention and went on to influence several generations of artists. In 2016 Matthew Marks Gallery presented Rocca’s first one-person exhibition in New York, “Suellen Rocca: Bare Shouldered Beauty, Works from 1965 to 1969,” which was followed two years later by a survey of her drawings made between 1981 and 2017. In 2020 the Secession in Vienna organized an exhibition of Rocca’s paintings and drawings, including works completed just before her death.