Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Painter's Perspective from an 'Ancient Artist' -- Sue Smith

When I first discovered the Ancient Artist blog by Sue Smith, I felt like I had discovered a gold mine or golden mind! And then when I read her trials and discoveries while growing her art I saw very little difference between the discussions we've had here focused on fabric and her exposition about oil and watercolor art. I admit that I'm not ready to be referred to as an 'Ancient Artist,' yet I like the connection to the past that 'ancient' denotes. Ancient also sounds wise, doesn't it? And Sue is definitely wise.  I could identify with much of what she had to say and by so doing felt less isolated and yes, a bit more hopeful that I still have time to find my creative gene.

Graciously, Sue Smith accepted an invitation to join us at Subversive Stitchers: Women Armed with Needles and share her art and her experiences. Maybe you will discover you're an 'ancient artist,' too. -- Dawn
Facts of Life (shown here) is part of the Mesa Series is 24"h x 12"w. This bird lives in the imaginary spaces, and he, too, is imaginary - a composite of several species of bird plus a bit of whimsey. The technique is similar to that used in another piece in the Mesa Series shown below: How the Light Gets In.

How the Light Gets In is oil on panel. I use a lot of texture in the Mesa Series paintings, starting with gesso spread thickly on the panels. As the paint dries I scrape into it with sandpaper, sharp scraping knives, whatever is within reach to create more texture. Then more paint, more scraping, until I get what I'm after. These are landscapes that evolve out of my imagination - they are places that have never been explored before, wide open to your own imagination as to what you might find there. This painting is 12"h by 30"w.

The idea behind this series is finding ways for us to reconnect to the sense of the landscape as a sacred, unexplored and unpopulated place where we make a journey that reveals to us a new awareness about ourselves - sort of a shamanistic influence, about going to a secret place and returning with newfound wisdom.

I consider myself a painter.

I am fascinated with words and the meaning behind them - what does "artist" mean? What does "painter" mean - if anything other than they describe what I do and are interchangeable. I once read a statement by a successful artist who said he was an "artist" because he brought something more pure to his work than "painters" who merely slap color on to a surface - but I don't call myself a "painter" just to be contrary or because I think I just slap paint on the surface without meaning.

I call myself a "painter" because of a book that I read, called The Painter From Shanghai, by Jennifer Cody Epstein. It's the life story of the very talented Chinese Postimpressionist painter Pan Yuliang who moved to Paris and "lived at the intersection of great art and tumultuous modern history...the story of a bold and improbable woman" who suffered greatly but refused to give up on her inner knowledge that her life's purpose was to be an artist. I identify with her - will never face the difficulties she did - but her story gives me courage to struggle on and not give up.

So, in my own way, I am a painter.

When I turned 50 I took the risk to really educate myself and went back to school. I earned an art degree from Oregon State University and graduated with the Distinguished Student - Department of Art Award at age 56. I come from a line of needle women, even made a few baby quilts and crewel-embroidery. But nothing hit me as hard as painting.

It wasn’t until I went to Italy for a painting workshop that I realized this was something I had to do. One minute I was the old me, and in the next instant I had passed through a doorway and wasn't looking back.

I'm now 61, and in the years since becoming a painter, I've accomplished goals I never imagined possible: some as simple as discovering my artistic voice, others in the form of professional recognition. When people ask me why I'm doing this, I try to explain it this way:

“All I really know are my own experiences, what I see and perceive, beauty that presents itself to me in a flash and disappears. But when I read a poem, or see a painting, or hear a melody filled with recognition of the familiar, I am knocked breathless with the awareness that I am not alone in my experience.
This is why I paint.”

In addition to the Mesa Series, I also paint traditional landscape. I alternate between the Imaginary spaces and the real spaces - each one informs the other in a way. Here is another landscape for comparison between the two main styles I use - titled Beneath Whychus Creek Bridge. 14 x 18, oil on canvas. (third photo)

I started out painting in watercolor, but soon discovered that oil fit my painting methods perfectly. There is luminosity in oil paint that visually I find compelling, plus it is forgiving and allows me to really work the paint surfaces if I need to. I love that.

Liz Massey who writes the Creative Liberty blog interviewed me awhile back. This is what she had to say:
“A contemporary landscape painter who also does work in abstracts and other areas, Sue always has something interesting to say about the creative process, and her insights as someone who became serious about her art later in life ... provides valuable perspective in a youth-obsessed culture.”

What I discovered after I graduated and experienced life after art school is how hard it is for people at mid-life to get the culture to acknowledge them as having something important to say. There are so many people who turn to artistic expression as a second or third career, but they feel marginalized; yet research proves that older artists have advantages over their younger peers and can still produce strong work well into their 70’s.

I started writing Ancient Artist because I wanted to share what I was learning with other emerging older artists and provide one source of encouragement and support to people working in isolation. It’s so important to stay positive and determined, to realize you can succeed.

The truth is Ancient Artist has probably been the main driver that has kept me moving forward despite the setbacks and disappointments that occur every day in this business.

I think it’s helpful to take a moment and look back to see just how far any of us has come. In this first image, I'm petrified and have boxed myself into a corner, the wall at my back. A defensive stand for sure. It was my first Art Opening in a mainstream Contemporary Art Gallery. Shelly Hall Gallery. This was 2 years ago and sadly Shelly Hall Gallery closed in 2008 due to the economic downturn.

In this second image I am at my most recent Art Opening at High Desert Gallery of Central Oregon. I was too busy talking to people to worry about being nervous (I'm the one in the white jacket). As a certified, life-long introvert, I can tell you this is a major personal growth milestone – and proof that we are getting closer to our goals every day, even if we don't realize it.

Bio: Sue Favinger Smith began her award-winning career at the age of 50, earning an art degree from Oregon State University and graduating with the Distinguished Student - Department of Art Award at age 56. Since traduating from Oregon State University, she has focused on oil painting, exploring the techniques and color used by painters who inspire her. She is best known for her poured oil Elements Series, the semi-abstract Mesa Series, and representational landscapes...but she has recently added still life and the figurative Ancestor Series to her painting oeuvre.

Residing in Central Oregon, Sue has participated in national and regional exhibitions, solo and three-person shows, and is a juried member in Oil Painters of America, an associate member in Women Artists of the West, and a juried member in the prestigious National Association of Women Artists. Her work is in private collections across the country. Sue maintains not only her popular Ancient Artist blog, but also websites Sue Smith Fine Arts and Sue Smith.

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