Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fresh off the Easel ...

Binoculars #193 - Sunburst over North Dumpling Lighthouse.
20" x 20". Oil on Gessoed Sandeply Panel. 2014. Copyright.

Available through the Trade Winds Gallery


This piece came together rather quickly to my surprise
as compared to the average rate it's been taking me to finish pieces this year.

The reason for that is because, over the past years I've taken it upon myself
to put a little more 'effort' into my work ... giving it that 'something'.
which has been beneficial for the most part.

So, it's rather nice when a piece comes together unexpectedly!

And with that .... the painting is of North Dumpling Lighthouse
nestled between the North shores of Fisher's Island (New York)
and the Southern shoreline of Groton Long Point, (Groton, Connecticut).

Please stay tuned from more what's new from the studio!

Cheers, ~ Polly ~ 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New Work: Words from the studio on Binoculars #192.

Binoculars #192 - The Hang Out
22" x 22". Oil on Gessoed Sandeply Panel. 2014. Copyright.
(View from Napatree Point, Watch Hill, RI)

Update: (Jan 2, 2014) This piece is no longer available.


I will admit ....

This piece struggled to come into its very own.
There was much resistance from it along the way.  
At times, it's as though it didn't want to be created!
I never felt such resistance in a piece before.

There were times when 'I' was ready to paint 
but suddenly I found myself taken away from the piece,
like a parent losing their grip of their child's hand 
in a crowd of people.
There were times where things seemed to be going well 
only to find out actually things weren't going well. 

Everything in its creation mattered to me.
But ....
There were definitive moments when 
  this piece just wouldn't have it!
So, it was handled with a deliberate
sense of not caring ...

And that's where the painting showed itself!
It grew in leaps and bounds with those few moments!
It showed its magic to me!

Please stay tuned for more what's new from the studio!

Cheers, ~ Polly ~

Monday, December 1, 2014

Artist on Artist Interview with Rex Stewart.

For this month's 'Artist on Artist' interview it gives me great pleasure in presenting renowned New York / New England Historical Maritime Artist and Craftsman, Rex Stewart. 

I first discovered Stewart's work through the FB group 'All Things Nautical', in which we are both members. What caught my attention to Stewart's 'All Things Nautical' postings was learning that he is the creator of the ship models in which he shares in the group. Stewart's attention to detail is highly impressive. Another fascinating aspect about Stewart is the extensive historical and personal content he provides with each ship model, or painting, or drawing. Stewart is a quintessential maritime artist, not only is he a supreme ship model maker, but he is also a highly skilled draftsman and painter as well.

And now without any further adieu here is Stewart's interview along with selected works ...

  Artist on Artist Interview with Rex Stewart
New York / New England Maritime Artist and Craftsman.

Polly - Hi Rex, it's a great pleasure having you here, and thank you for being part of the 'AoA' interview project! Ok, let's get started ... How are you doing today? Would you mind giving us a little background about yourself, where you're from, where you live now, etc. 

Rex - Today, I'm fine...and, upbeat as usual. There's no absolute place to begin. However, I am a native of Albany, New York, which is the last major city on the Hudson River and the Capital City of New York State. I currently live in my old neighborhood of Mansion Hill, just around the corner of Governor's Mansion and the large Cathedral Church where I once served as an altar boy during the 60's. Prior to home, I lived in Massachusetts for several years on the premise of exploring New England's antique centers, art facilities/galleries, and maritime. 

Polly - Can you describe your earliest memories as to when you knew you were an artist, and how you discovered your affinity for model-making? 

Rex - My interest in art began in Second Grade at Public School No.2 which was around the corner from the Capitol Building. I was fascinated with its architecture back then, always visiting before going home after school...especially the intricate carvings at the 'Million Dollar Stairs' area.  When the Governor declared to have a one square mile area of our neighborhood removed to rebuild the Empire State Plaza, our family had to relocate and I was enrolled in Catholic School which was located four blocks on the same street where we formerly lived. It was there, at the Cathedral Academy, where my art advanced. It was also there that my ship modelling skills developed when one of our classroom assignments was a project to build a Viking Ship. 

"Flight of the Gulls - Period: New England circa, 1904" . Wood Sculpture. Scale - 1:12.

Polly - What was it about the Viking Ship that intrigued you so much and could you tell us about your later art education and training; were you formally trained, or are you a self-taught artist? 

Rex - What I found intriguing about the Viking Ship Project, while attending the Cathedral Academy, was that we were required to research this vessel and create a model of it, using whatever materials were available. Since the Russo brothers owned stores at each end of the our residential block, it wasn't difficult to get cardboard from them. I used that material to produce a detailed model of Leif Erickson's ship and won top honors. Sadly, this was in the Fall of 1963, two weeks before my 9th birthday, November 27th, and five days prior to President Kennedy's assassination.

It was the ship models in his Oval Office that inspired my maritime interest as a Fourth Grade student. I studied vessels even further after the tragedy, producing detailed drawings of sailing ships which caught the attention of the Nuns and Father Hubbard. That winter of '63 I was recommended by Hubbard to study art at the Cardinal McCloskey High School which was down the street adjacent to the Governors Mansion. Such a privilege granted me opportunity to develop skills which guided my direction to explore, research and experiment with materials at a higher level -eight grades in advance. In 1967, attending a predominantly Italian Catholic School, Saint Anthony's, I received a scholarship from the Women's Council of the Albany Institute of History and Art to study in the Adult Class system. I had just turned 13. I created my first nude from a live setting. The drawing was purchased by the model who was extremely impressed with the likeness. At first I felt awkward being in a room with talented adults; but after a small pep talk from instructor John Rosutto, everything worked. My greatest fascination was having the portrait bought by the subject before I left the studio. It was that event that made me aware that I was destined to be an artist. From that point on I decided to experiment with different mediums and taught myself with, of course, reference materials I bought from the art store and/or borrowed from the city libraries. 

Original scale model of the famed Hudson River steamboat as she appeared in 1893 after her rebuild. 

Polly - Tell us about the beginnings of your maritime art career and how it has evolved?

Rex - After the Albany Institute, there were no other art schools I attended. Much of my art began to develop as I was commissioned by the Albany citizens which started immediately after I acquired three paper routes. Two were morning routes before school; and the third, after school. On these routes I would occasionally bring my portfolio and show my work to my customers and receive commissions from them which varied in subject matter and mediums, re: pencil, pen and ink, acrylic and oils. 

As these commissions prospered during my early teens, so did my reputation as an artist. Several articles were written in the Region's newspapers and more work came from areas beyond the Capital District. At 17, I quit school and was hired by the Albany Savings Bank. It was there, after having my first one man exhibition in the main lobby, that I began to receive corporate and private support. Many commissions came from bankers, lawyers, business executives and politicians during and after my tenure at the bank. 

The Chairman of the bank encouraged me to further my art career with a paid scholarship to attend the local University where I remained for a year. During my year's tenure at the University, a board member from the Schenectady Museum learned of my work and arranged a visit to view the pieces. Impressed, he and the Director, offered a one man show, circa 1979.

"Washington Park." Pastel on Parchment. 24" x 36". 

Polly - You are fortunate to have had a solo show early on in your artistic life (many congratulations to that!). Tell us about your studio atmosphere and your routine/approach: Is your studio at home or elsewhere? What's your studio like; naturally lit, tidy, and organised?, What is your work schedule like? Is most of your work commissioned based? Do you listen to music while you work and if so what?, etc ... 

Rex - Regarding my studio, it's in-house with considerable natural lighting. I've always preferred this type of scenario for the purpose of producing 'fine' art. The artificial light only help when I need to pinpoint/highlight details. As for tidiness, this practice was developed in Catholic School. We always had to have everything proper and orderly, including how we positioned our books on the desk, etc. Such practices eventually fell over into how I created my art. Much of this can be seen in my miniature ship models -refined detail inspite of the antiqued and/or aged Having materials in order make it easier to get whatever I need rather quickly, but I usually preset everything ahead of time. 

My work schedule varies, but I make every attempt to do most of my work at night (when our side of the world is sleeping). I can usually function on four to five hours of sleep, daily. This is due, impart, because of an science experiment we endeavored in grammar school. We had to roll back our sleep hours to find how much real sleep we needed to be effective in thought and physical strength. I could function on four to five hours sleep, which is why I was able to perform three paper routes during my youth...and endure as an athlete. Relative to my work, it has always been commissioned-based. However, there was a period when I consigned to galleries, circa 1985 - 2005. I have since returned back to commissioned work and make sales whenever there's a request for a certain art object. 

While working, I usually focus quietly. However, there are moments when I listen to music to keep the momentum going. I usually like music that centers around Barry White. There's something about his orchestral type music that soothes the mind. Of course there are other artists, but his work is my favorite because of the trumpets, horns and cymbals...and, of course, drums. As a youth, when I heard Gogi Grants' "Wayward Wind" in the 60's, I immediately was passionate about the mentioned instruments. Later, little Peggy March's song "I Will Follow Him" caught my interest. 

Polly - Is there a philosophy you have when it comes to creating your art? 

Rex - There is no philosophy of any kind to me or my work. I make every effort to create on the basis of need. What I might feel, be enlightened by, and what the audience can absorb from it. Nothing more. Of course there has to be a direction and a vision. Both are dependent on the other. That being said, I can honestly say that I'm a artist. That's the vision. Where I take the art, that's the direction. 

"Pirate's Peril - Caribbean Pirates c. 1720". Wood Sculpture. Scale - 1:24.  

Polly - If you could try your hand at another medium or genre, what would it be and why? 

Rex - There are no specific genres or mediums to pursue. I challenge myself where I'm the weakest. I don't compete, and have only used that endeavor to bring awareness to my failures. Much of the work centers on my ability to study the work and find a purpose for the work. It is then that I know what I'm capable of achieving at any given time. 

Polly - I can appreciate your 'as a matter of fact' approach towards your art-making, and even though making art is a solitary endeavour, there are people in artist's lives on the side-lines cheering them on; who has been your greatest support? 

Rex - I must agree that in any profession, we all need sideline support of some kind. It first begins at home and branches from there. Unfortunately, many artists and/or prospective artists don't receive such and are at crossroads that they can't seem to grasp or understand relative to their skills and direction. There were many that supported me, so I can't really pinpoint any one individual. In recent times, these past 30 years, my sole support and encouragement stem from the Bible. Why? Because the support as I knew it began to fall off and my work was met with biases that I could not understand or fathom. Relationships became personal verses professional, so I felt a need to search deeper truths about who I was and my true purpose in the arts. The Bible helped to evaluate 'me'...something people could not do, regardless of their status. I knew that my work was extraordinary, based on the affiliations I endeavored in my early years. But I also knew that there would exist roadblocks that I witnessed some artists experiencing which strengthened me to push further. I was never one to embrace opinionated people, rather attached myself to those who shared similar viewpoints. These are, and continue to be, my supporters.

"Afternoon Arrival". Oil painting of Lake George steamboat HORICON. 24" x 36". 1991. 

Polly - What has been the most challenging for you?

Rex - As for challenges, there never has been any per se. Each endeavor is a challenge and it is how we come out of that endeavor that gives us the foundation we establish for ourselves, whether it be success or failure. The choice is ultimately ours, alone.

Polly - I'm curious to know; what kinds of art resonates with your spirit ?, do you have any particular artists or genres that you admire, like or learn from?  

Rex - There are no particular art styles that touch or ignite my spirit. Working at the former Albany City Arts Office (1975-1980) offered much by way of interacting with other artists and observing their styles and techniques. I didn't have to explore beyond this facility to know and understand creative procedure and genres. However, in lieu of genres, this word didn't exist at the time. We usually were identified by theme or category which I specialized in several and became diversified as a result. These were landscapes, oceanscapes, portraits, etc. I did very well in all of them. Maritime was the most challenging because of the prejudice and biases I had to encounter. But as you can clearly observe, I overcame with perseverance...especially with my 20 year tenure with Mystic Seaport, among other notable galleries. No one artist influenced me, per se. However, I was drawn to two UK artists whom I admired in the late 60's and early 70's. These were Montague Dawson and Carl Evers.  

"The Mark of Calvary" - Sectional view of the Wood Sculpture. Scale - 1:12. 

Polly - And in the field of maritime art; who in your mind of the maritime artists, dead or alive, would you consider to be the masters? 

Rex - Relative to identifying maritime 'masters', I really can't answer that. I honestly believe that a master is anyone who has developed a track record of excellence in their field of endeavor. Not by popularity but by excellence. Prejudice has garnished false 'masters' -placing them in the spotlight while those of true renown have perished undiscovered. I don't identify with this because of my experience, but identify because of what I've witnessed. Mystic Seaport invited me to show in their Masters, twice. That being said, how can I identify with other 'masters' when I'm in the same family? I can't. 

Polly - I’m curious to know, what are your thoughts about being an artist that is active online and has your time online helped your career as an artist, and if so, in what ways? 

Rex - I never had any thoughts on being an artist. I identified with my calling years ago and considered remaining with it, even though family, friends, and others spoke against it and attempted to discourage those interests. I realized what I had was a gift and when I read in the Bible about the Parable of the Talents, about one individual not using his ability to double his portion, I received a greater awakening. Art, like anything else is a passion, and it is 'work'. Why it is classified as a source of struggle is foolish. We see, breathe, and live art every day. Our cars, homes, clothes, utensils, devices, etc., stems from art and design. All those items had to be 'worked' in order for enjoyment to be its cornerstone. If anything, this is not my thoughts on being an artist but rather the acknowledgement of knowing I am. Having an online presence in today's society is crucial for any business. It takes work, dedication, and a firm belief in what needs to be addressed to the viewer. Not everyone will like 'you' or your work, but that's fine. Work is not subjected to a popularity contest. It is knowing what you have and how you want to bring it to the masses. And, it is how your work is received by those who support it. The internet is a tool that can work, provided time is invested there. I belong to several networks and I'm appalled at the complaining on these networks. The bottom like remains with one word which is -diligence. This is the measuring rod to whether or not the internet will serve you. I can't be specific and reveal how it's helped me, as each one of us have our own methods of promotion. However, it would be in the best interest of every artist to re-evaluate their skills and get support from those who are willing to work with them.  

Rex Stewart, working on the miniature ship model of the "BATAVIA" in his New York studio.

Polly - For the most part, artists tend to be a bit of an enigma to the outside world; how would you describe yourself as a person and could you tell us a little about your life outside the studio; what are some activities that you enjoying doing, could be art related or not, etc. 

Rex - I wouldn't consider or embrace the world's opinion about my identity as an artist. You mention that the world "tends to see us as an enigma; a mystery and/or puzzle. I must agree that artists are frowned upon and are deemed unintelligent to the 'real world'. The fact of the matter is that I'm very intelligent and have been since I can remember. Again, we live in an opinionated society; but it's not my world by any stretch of the imagination. It has to be understood that no one can please everyone; yet, we all have a purpose in this life to do and be whatever we're destined to be -artists, included. I can't put any description to myself other than what is written. However, I can say that I enjoy being a parent and I work well with people, whether or not they wish to work well with me. In essence, people will know me by my work and will understand me from my work. I love this approach, because it gives me leverage to know if I have a friend or an adversary.

Polly - I agree with your wonderful response to that last question, you are very intelligent! As you know, artists, get asked all sorts of questions. Recently I was asked a question which I'd never been asked before and it got me thinking, which I would like to propose to you; what is your ultimate goal with your art? 

Rex - As an artist, I explore, research and create. There are no ultimate goals I set for what I do. There does exist the question of knowing where I want to take my direction, but it doesn't embrace any sure end. Whatever the subject, I pursue it to the best of my ability and then move on to the next.  

"BATAVIA" - starboard close-up view, 1:200 scale of Dutch VOC sailing ship, circa 1627. 

Polly - Changing topics ... This is a question I ask all the artists I interview; if you could spend the day with one person, dead or alive, famous or not, who would it be and why?  

Rex - The answer would be President John F. Kennedy. I was fascinated by this man, his naval heroics on PT 109, and his short-lived career as Commander-in-Chief at the White House. I always pondered my thoughts as to why he was liked by many Americans and how he was well-received at international events. I remember building my first and only Aurora kit of him sitting, legs crossed, at the fireplace. When at Catholic School, I and a group of classmates would visit the Mom and Pop Store up the street and purchase collector cards on him which were published in black and white at the time. When he made his Inaugural speech, the words "Ask not what your Country can do for you; ask what you can do for your Country." I knew exactly what he meant by those words. It was the secret for unlocking any and all possibilities for being anything you wanted to be. When I walk past the Capitol steps here in Albany, I can almost hear him speaking when he was running for the Presidency in the late 50's. Many notable people stood on those steps, but Kennedy was the one who garnished the spotlight there. If I could spend a day with anyone, it would be with this man.

Polly - And lastly, what words of wisdom do you have to offer to young, and aspiring artists?

Rex -Everyone has some form of wisdom to share, based on one's experience and/or the experience of others. I tend to find that personal experience in any matter is the best teacher because you are taught from that experience. For artists, like any other profession, there exist pros and cons. It's a matter of choice and direction that will be the conclusion for the journey which is ultimately the experience. I would tell every artist, amateur and professional, to endure the experience ... to go the extra mile and (BELIEVE) that there will be an end -provided something is done, and that is to create. Furthermore, divorce opinionated people and pointless debates. Nothing can be gained by either and such will only pollute the process of the growth in your endeavor(s). In essence, value and be a good steward of your time -and be patient with your time to develop your qualities. Doing this, there won't be any room for pride and jealousy to suffocate the inner beauty that you want seen and appreciated by others. We all have a timetable for expressing ourselves. Time is priceless. Use it the right way and you, as well as your work, will become equally priceless. This is hard to fathom by most, but it is the wise who can see, live, and understand this truth. And last, be with only those who will understand (stand under) your beliefs and convictions. With this type of support you will reach and meet your objective as an artist. It's a no-brainer.

Polly - Thank you, Rex, for this unique insight into your artistic life! I wish you continued success and happiness with your work!

To learn more about Rex Stewart and to see more of his works please visit his website ...

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Artist on Artist Interview with Susan Stephenson.

The 'Artist on Artist' Interview Second Anniversary! 

Today is a very special day for a few reasons!

Firstly, today marks the Second Anniversary of the 'Artist on Artist' Interviews I conduct. 
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the 'AoA' interviews and their purpose; for the past two years, I've been hosting 6 artist interviews, every other month on my studio blog. I feature 3 female and 3 male artists, all of varying mediums, genres, styles, and subject matters. The premise to these interviews is to celebrate and promote artists, whose work I have deep admiration and respect for while giving them the opportunity to represent their spirit and work in a way they see suitable. 

Secondly, I am thrilled, excited, happy, and honoured, to be celebrating this special Anniversary with an artist whose work is stellar and always rises to the occasion, and who I had the pleasure of having as a teacher at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts; the one and only, Susan Stephenson! 

Susan Stephenson's work has long been a favourite of mine since my days at the Academy and her work continues to amaze me. Stephenson has an uncanny ability to take the ordinary and make it into something extraordinary! Her unique vision as an artist is unparalleled to any other artist, old or new. Stephenson's work explores strong compositions, rich and intense colours, and a distinctive painting style which makes her work pure eye-candy! Stephenson's work is supreme, and so is her character as a human being at the say least. 

And now without any further adieu here is Susan Stephenson's interview along with selected works ....


Artist on Artist Interview with Susan Stephenson

Susan Stephenson with her new work 'Endless Summer' during the
Faculty Exhibition Opening, Sept 12, 2014. at the 
Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts.

Endless Summer. 36" x 48". Oil on Panel. © 2014.

*Endless Summer along with three other new works are currently on display at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, Old Lyme, CT; and will be on view in the Stillman Gallery until January 10, 2015.  

Polly - Hello Susan, and a big welcome to you on my studio blog, and may I say it is a pleasure to have you here! Would mind telling us where you’re from and where you live now?

Susan - Hi, Polly - it’s always a pleasure to see you and hear what you’re thinking about. Thanks for inviting me! I was born in Ruston, Louisiana, and I now live in Hopkinton, RI, and I share a studio in the Velvet Mill in Stonington, CT.

Late Summer Evening. 24" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2012.

Polly -  Please tell us about your earliest memories of when and how you discovered you were an artist? 

Susan - On some level - even as a tiny child - I always felt like an artist.  I could hold a pencil absurdly early and was constantly drawing with crayons or markers, as far back as I can remember.  My parents were wonderfully indulgent and gave me materials and encouraged me, even to the point of being slow to stop me when I began drawing all along one of our walls in the house where we lived when I was three.  I can remember seeing that pristine length of hallway (it was a ranch) and feeling like it was a gigantic piece of paper - heaven!  It was impossible to resist.  At the time, my mother didn’t want to squelch me, but my grandmother thought they were nuts not to stop me.  That tells you a lot about the sort of encouragement and experimentation I took for granted, growing up in my household.  Even as a four year-old, I was holding crazy sessions at the kitchen table, drawing portraits of my family members and being totally frustrated whenever they twitched. 

  I was also enchanted by color at an early age, and my parents thought they’d stumbled onto a perfect babysitting activity when I would spend hours painting at the kitchen table.  I would happily dribble pure paint, relishing the colors and abstract blobs.  Since I wasn’t yet capable of washing a single brush and reusing it, my mother had to get me a little brush for every pot of color.  And I couldn’t sit in a chair and see above the table, so I would have to crawl up and stay on my knees in the chair seat in order to see.  It was great, being the little artist in the family.

Farmerville Reflections. 12" x 24".  © 2010. 

Stop in New London. 12" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2007/14.

Polly - Could you tell us about your education and training?

Susan - My hometown is a university town, and I was always aware of local artists’ work. There were also books, galore, at my house - my parents collected them, and I had monographs of various artists at the ready. Yet I didn’t visit a museum and see a real Van Gogh or Cezanne until I was in college and took a bus trip to Dallas/Ft. Worth with my painting professor, Peter Jones. It was a revelation, seeing those paintings in real life, and it forever changed how I viewed painting. 

  I received my BFA from Louisiana Tech University, in my hometown. It had a strong Art and Architecture Department, and my father taught physics there for years; so when I decided to stay in Ruston and pursue my BFA at La Tech, it was an emotional as well as financial decision.  Some of the professors at Tech were phenomenal, and the one-on-one interaction was unbeatable. They expected students to emerge from the program with the ability to work representationally as well as non-objectively, and it was enormously helpful to my development. 

  Then I moved to Boston and became a graduate student at Boston University’s School of Visual Arts, receiving my MFA in 1992. It was a fantastic experience. At that time, John Moore was running the graduate program and it was life-changing to be able to work with him. It was also transformative to work alongside my friends - they will always feel like family members to me, no matter how long we go without catching up. Grad school was one of the best times of my life, and I would encourage anyone who is even halfway interested to go ahead and give it a try. 

Chartreuse. 24" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2008.  

Polly - What did you gain most having studied at BU and from there, how did you get yourself from where you are today? (Question presented by Sandi Gold)

Susan - One the most helpful things I gained at BU was the ability to discuss work and philosophies during seminars, where we all made presentations about a number of artists or ideas and then argued and defended our positions without committing murder - a miracle. I also developed a “thicker skin.” There I was, producing more work in less time than ever before, all while being critiqued from a variety of people on an ongoing basis. It was an exhausting process, both physically and mentally, but the experience really tempered me - invaluable. 

  After receiving my MFA, I returned to Louisiana for a couple of years and taught Design at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. In 1994, I returned to New England for a nine-month residency in New London with The Griffis Art Center. After that concluded, instead of returning to the South, I stayed in the area and found part-time work teaching at two places: at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI, I taught all levels of Drawing as a sabbatical replacement; and at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in Old Lyme, CT, I taught a 2D Design course. The job at Lyme eventually became full-time, and in 2001, I became Lyme’s first Foundation Program Chair, a position I held for nine years. In 2011, I became the Chair of the Painting Department and continue to serve in that capacity today. Right now, I teach Drawing, Painting, and Design.

August Evening at Pearl.  12" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2010.

Yellowhouse. 12" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2011.

Polly - Please tell us about your influences and inspirations, and how does teaching influence your art?

Susan - I’m influenced by a number of artists from the past. Some of my favorite painters are Willem de Kooning and Richard Diebenkorn, but I also love Van Gogh, Vuillard, Bacon, Hokusai, Rembrandt, Brueghel, Uglow, Freud ... and countless others. There are plenty of living artists whose work I admire, too. Because of the curvilinear perspective I’ve been exploring in my work, Rackstraw Downes is especially interesting, and so is Antonio Lopez Garcia. I admire the fearlessness and sensuality of Anne Harris’s paintings, and I also admire Jenny Saville’s continuing impact - her recent drawings were fantastic. Kyle Staver’s paintings pull me in with their use of color as light while using mythology in such an interesting way, and they make me rethink everything. Former colleagues have had a deep influence on me over the years, and they continue to affect my work, today:  I admire David Dewey’s paintings for their use of color and absolute mastery of the medium of watercolor, not to mention how much I relish seeing how he sees the world; and the abstract strength of Steve Sheehan’s paintings always reminds me to pare things down more. 

  Teaching has influenced my art in unexpected ways. Being able to be granular in discussing painting and its peculiarities for so many years has allowed me to immerse myself in that world deeply than if I had been working at a different job.  But in all honestly, I must agree with what Ben Shahn said about teaching art, that an artist must stop thinking about what she may say in the classroom when she steps in front of her own work. Teaching is one thing, making art is another, and those lessons can get in the way of spontaneity and doom the painting. Sometimes, however, if I find my way through a particular problem, I remember my students and wish they could have seen and learned from it; but of course, that will never happen - I can’t really make artwork and teach at the same time. Demos are usually duds - their purpose is to be informative. 

  Ultimately, my teaching has influenced my art simply because it has allowed me to meet and work with so many terrific artists; I believe the connection with them is sustaining, possibly staving off the isolation so many artists can feel.

 Corner of Main and Commerce. 14" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2010.

On site for 'Corner of Main and Commerce'. 

Polly - Your work has a unique style; how would you describe your style, and how and when did you start painting with the exaggerated curvature/fish-eye lens perspective?, is there a specific goal you are attempting to achieve with your painting?

Susan - I don’t worry about style very much - like a personality, I feel that it will take care of itself. Instead, I seek visual relationships that please me, and this usually brings a level of consistency to the work. 

  My interest in curvilinear perspective is most likely a direct result of my having grown up in a homemade geodesic dome, and my attraction to circles and triangles appears in all sorts of ways. My very first experiment with the wraparound view happened in 1997 or ‘98 when I was on site in Westerly, painting along the Pawcatuck river and looking up at the buildings, above. The only panel I had on hand was not wide enough to incorporate the view I wanted, so I bent the world a bit in order to fit it into the rectangle. (That painting now belongs in the Pfizer corporate collection.) At around the same time at the Ocean House in Watch Hill, RI, I continued using curvilinear perspective in a painting that initially made me feel queasy but now feels quite tame.

Misquamicut Farm. 7 1/2"x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2010.

Polly - Tell us about your studio and your routine; where is your studio?, you keep a tidy or messy studio space?, how do you start a piece?, do you work from photos sometimes?, do you listen to music when you paint and if so what?, etc.

Susan - Oh, I am a very messy person - a total slob. My studio is always jumbled. I share it with another artist, Steve Sheehan, and I try to keep things neater out of consideration for him. It’s odd, but the only things I really keep in order are my tools - I cannot abide not knowing where my woodworking tools are, when I need them. So they’re usually in their particular spot. Everything else is all over the place. 

  While I do share that studio in the Velvet Mill, my REAL studio is the outdoors - wherever I happen to be on site. Most of my work is produced on location from direct observation, but I have worked from photographs a few times. I usually dislike the results, when I use photos, but I like to keep my options open. Recently, I did produce a larger painting in my studio, working from a smaller painting produced on location - it’s not a common process for me, but I enjoyed it. 

  The only time I listen to music while painting is when I work on something in the studio. On location, I want to keep my ears open to whatever is going on around me; blocking my hearing with earbuds would leave me vulnerable. Even though I paint in locations that are pretty safe, I try to remember to watch my back and never get so lost in a painting that I become a target. In fact, positioning myself in front of windows has been helpful, since I can see what’s going on behind me; the reflections in front are interesting, but the awareness of my environment is especially important. I most often work on birch panels that I’ve prepared with acrylic gesso. 

  When I begin a painting, I draw on the panel with paint and then try to develop everything as abstractly as possible.

Sunday at the Strand - Dixie Theater.  12" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2006.

Polly - As plein-air artist(s), we tend to get a lot of inquisitive people interrupting our work; what is your strategy in with inquisitive minds, and would you mind sharing with us a funny plein-air painting experience/story you have. 

Susan - I do find myself interrupted by onlookers when I'm working out in public - I think of it as a toll for the privilege of working outdoors. It's interesting, because some people walk up to me and simply breathe and I want to scream and run away; while others may walk up, take a look and even ask a question... and for some reason they don't bother me at all - it depends on the person. One thing I've noticed, though, is that obnoxious children usually come with obnoxious parents, and the reverse seems to be true. 

  When people are genuinely interested, I'm happy to talk briefly with them about the work, even if it takes me away from the moment. But in order to avoid casual interruptions, I've learned a few tactics that seem to work. 

  Most importantly, avoid touristy areas, if possible. When I first moved to RI and began painting on site at area beaches, I didn't know any better, and I tried to paint when the beaches were at their most crowded.  Nowadays, if I go to the beach to work, I'll usually get there at dawn and leave when the crowds thicken.  Besides, when people are on vacation, they may not realize you're there to work; they may be more inclined to linger without realizing how detrimental it is to your focus.  I try to keep to myself as much as I can without being downright rude, or else a nice brief conversation can turn into a whole string of interruptions, because people who are walking by will be more inclined to approach you after seeing you talking with others.  On the other hand, touristy areas are probably safer than some other places, and I act differently according to the location.  In a tourist-rich area, I'll keep my head down and avoid eye contact.  If I see someone approaching tentatively and I happen to look up and lock eyes with them, they seem to take it as an invitation and move right in.  If I avoid eye contact and still get the feeling that people are going to speak with me - and I'm in a precarious moment of the work -  I'll scowl at the painting.  Yes, I call it the George Costanza method, and it works!  When people think you're having a bad day, they'll leave you alone.  I've even grimaced and said "Aaaaagh" under my breath - works like a charm. 

  In contrast, if I'm working in a more urban environment, and I am not as certain of my surroundings, I make a point of making eye contact with passersby in order to make sure they know I'm aware of what's around me. People in cities usually don't stop and interrupt, anyway, since they're often on their way somewhere else. For the past ten years, I've been using a rolling cooler as an impromptu easel and carrying cart; in New London, a few people thought I was trying to sell drinks on the sidewalk, which I thought was odd.  I should've remembered that when I was painting in Westerly another time, and a guy walked up to me and asked, "You got any beer?"  I was totally confused.  Then I looked down at my paint-spattered cooler and realized that he had no idea what I was doing there.  You'd find paint and turpenoid in there, but no beer.

State and Union. 12" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2007.

Polly - Would you mind telling us about your palette - what kind you use and what colours/paints you use? Do use any mediums? What is your preferred surface to work on and why?

Susan - When I was in college, I loved working on canvas and couldn’t ever have imagined that nowadays I would prefer to work on birch panels, but it’s true. I love the smooth surface and the resistance - like painting on a wall, I guess. Occasionally, I’ll prepare panels with rabbitskin glue, but I’ll prime them most often with acrylic gesso. There’s a brand I’ve recently become excited about called Art Alternatives - it’s advertised as a “cheaper alternative,” but I found that it covers better and has a superior tooth. I love it. 

  My palette is simple - often it’s just cadmium red medium, cad yellow light, ultramarine blue, and white. But sometimes I add pthalo blue and maybe a purplish red, like magenta or quinacridone violet. There’s no single brand that I prefer, since I tend to go for a particular color that one brand makes while going for a different brand of another color. But if I had to be specific, I would say that Old Holland is always a great brand of oil paint, and so is Williamsburg. Recently, I’ve been trying out a few of the Michael Harding colors I bought from the Store at Lyme Academy College, and so far his paints have been fabulous. For cadmiums, however, I prefer - brace yourself - Utrecht brand cadmiums. The yellow is hotter than I find in other brands, and that’s what I like. For white, I prefer a mix of titanium and zinc. 

  The medium I like to use is a mixture of Stand Oil and solvent; the solvent I’ve been using lately is Gamsol, but I’ve enjoyed others, too. 

Hot Spot. 24" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2014.

Polly - I’m curious, do you have a favourite painting of yours and if so, why!?! 

Susan - I’m not sure how to answer that question. There are definite works that becomes milestones in my development, and they are all special to me. But there are also several paintings that I hang onto for more than their formal strength; they are beloved primarily because of what was going on in my life when I painted them, and they take me directly back to that time whenever I see them. I painted several in my hometown that included old buildings or bridges that have since been torn down, and I love those paintings for the memories they represent. Similarly, there are paintings I made at houses where I once lived, and some of them are bittersweet, reminding me of people no longer in my life. But I must stress that any of these works that I love for sentimental reasons are never sentimental-looking, and only paintings that please me for formal reasons ever get pondered; the bad ones go into a box. Or thrown out. 

  But honestly, I feel that I should answer with another artist’s words (I’ve forgotten who said it, though,) - my favorite painting is whatever painting I’m working on at the moment. I think that sums it up. 

Sail Loft Sparkling. 16" x 20". Oil on Panel. © 2004/05.

Polly - If you could try your hand at another medium or genre what would it be and why? 

Susan - Oh, I am excited by lots of different things, but I don’t indulge in them very often. Collage is continually interesting, and so is ink wash. But the only material that I find almost as sensually wonderful as oil paint is Char-kole brand compressed charcoal on good-quality white paper. Its inky blackness is almost as rich as pure color, and the sooty feel is very satisfying. For a person who gets such a kick out of color, I daydream an awful lot about inky black and white images. 

A sneak peek into Stephenson's Velvet Mill studio in Stonington, CT.

Polly - If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why? 

Susan - I think it would be Willem deKooning, before Alzheimer’s hit. -No, let’s change that answer - it would probably be Hokusai, if I could have a translator. He was a genius. 

Corner Coffee. 24" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2009.

Polly - Who has been the greatest support to you as an artist and how? 

Susan - That would have to be my parents. They recognized my abilities early and encouraged me to be as independent as possible, and they gave me abundant supplies. If I had to narrow it down more specifically, I would say that my mother has been the single most important supporter, and I will never be able to thank her enough. Having someone believe in you with that much fervor and consistency is an unimaginable gift. It gives me strength, to this day. 

High Above Hartford. 24" x 48". Oil on Panel. © 2007. 

Polly - What has been most challenging for you as an artist? 

Susan - I’m a quiet person. Most of my exhibition opportunities just fell into my lap, and I am frustrated with myself for not trying to show my work in larger venues. People might know who I am if they are familiar with Lyme, but hardly anyone else knows who I am or what my work looks like, and I have only myself to blame. I’d rather hide under the bed than march out there, but it’s part of the job. I have to get busy. 

Park. 11" x 42". Oil on Panel. © 2002.

Hope Valley. 12" x 48". Oil on Panel. © 2014. 

 *Hope Valley will be included in "Convergence," the first large-scale alumni exhibition of Boston University's School of Visual Arts, held in honor of the 60th anniversary of the College of Fine Arts. In Boston University's Gallery 808, the exhibition will run from October 24 - December 14, 2014.

Polly - If you were conducting this interview what one question would you ask yourself and what would the answer be?

Susan - I have no idea how to respond to this question. You’ve stumped me, Polly! On second thought, I might ask “How would you like your work to be considered?” 

My answer: I remember a friend once gave me one of the best compliments, ever, and I would love for others to eventually share her opinion. We had been talking about gender and how an artist’s gender can sometimes appear obvious in their work. She mentioned an artist whose works looks very feminine and another whose work is quite masculine, and I agreed. She then said that my work looked neither feminine or masculine, just strong. That was the ultimate compliment. 

Aphrodite and Corsair. 12" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2004.

Polly - I would agree to that! Tell us what words of wisdom would you offer to young artists? 

Susan - First, I would give them a copy of the transcript from Bob Kulicke’s Visiting Artist talk at Lyme, because he gave incredible advice. Then I would tell them to persevere, to rise above the distractions that are everywhere, today - only people who work incredibly hard get anywhere in this business. Additionally, I would tell everyone to be sure to apply to grants and residencies repeatedly. It’s advice I have to remind myself to take, but it’s true - rejection is terribly common, but you must reapply after being disappointed, year after year. Sometimes it takes ten or fifteen attempts to get an acceptance. Sometimes an acceptance never arrives, that’s true.. but the application process does get better with practice - don’t give up. 

Downtown Westerly. 24" x 24". Oil on Panel. © 2009. 

Polly - Thank you so much for your time Susan! And lastly, is there anything else you would like to share with us about you and or your art? 

Susan - Nothing I can think of… Thank you, Polly! 

Polly - Thank you so much Susan for taking the time to talk about your art and giving us a little more insight into your artistic life! I wish you the very best with your career!!


For more information about Susan Stephenson and her work, please visit her website and or facebook page ...

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Stephenson's work is currently represented by the ... 

  • Cate Charles Gallery. Providence. RI.
*The Cate Charles Gallery will be hosting an exhibition of Stephenson's work scheduled for May 2015. So, be sure to mark your calendars and save the date!


Thank you all for viewing this month's Artist on Artist Interview with Susan Stephenson. Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.

The next 'Artist on Artist' interview is December 2014 with Rex Stewart.