Dream World of Memory, 6 x 6″, inspired by the poem of the same name by Deborah Keenan. Gouache on panel.
For Now She Closed Her Eyes, 20 x 16″, inspired by the short story “Tree in Winter” by Charlie M. Broderick. Gouache on panel.
One Would Never Imagine, 20 x 16″, inspired also by Tree in Winter. Gouache on panel.
Glass Fish, 14 x 11″, inspired by the poem “Names” by Katrina Vandenberg. Gouache on panel.
Flight, 8 x 8″ Gouache on panel.
An Interview with Susan Solomon
NS: Your bio states that you grew up in Las Vegas, but you are now a long time resident of Minnesota. It is often said that we carry around the places we grew up in as ‘interior landscapes’ and that those places forever influence our art. Is Las Vegas an ‘interior landscape’ for you? Does it influence your work? How?
SS: A great question about interior landscapes, and one for the ages! I firmly believe environments play a key part in how we see, maybe even in what we see, and can come back to haunt us in all kinds of ways. Yes, the desert sunsets, those world-on-fire skies remain cemented in my mind. It’s the Southwest colors that are my default when it comes to color sense: the blue/orange combo, purple and blue mountains, silver-green sage and creosote. Not to mention the neon everywhere, even reflected back from puddles, ugly-beautiful and distorted.
NS: I was drawn to many of your paintings that looked particularly Midwestern, such as the “Flight” series (probably because I live in the Midwest). It’s obvious that your adopted landscape does have a huge influence on your work, and I think your ability to capture the Midwestern horizon and sky is exceptional. What are some of the things about Minnesota that influence your work or that are beneficial to someone working as a painter?
SS: Thank you for the comment about horizon and sky. The spaciousness of the Midwest calls to me, almost on a cellular level. It is similar to the desert, in that you can see for miles in all directions. I’ve always felt safest in wide-open spaces. Recently my husband and I traveled to Nebraska to see the total solar eclipse, and that experience was unforgettable – the lighting was something out of a science fiction movie, and in that particular landscape it was unearthly. I love the emptiness seeming to extend forever. I know some people think the flat-scapes can be boring, and I’ve never, never understood that. It feels like unlimited potential. The endless farm-scapes and sky are alluring compositions that define a possible tomorrow and hope. It makes me feel both important and insignificant.
NS: You mentioned that you collaborate with fiction writers and poets in your painting process. How does that process work and what do you feel you gain from it? In what ways is it more beneficial to you as an artist to collaborate with someone?
SS: I had the greatest poet professor, Deborah Keenan, during my time in Hamline University’s MFA program. Deborah told us to read a poem, then wake up in the middle of the night and see what thoughts linger from the poem, its essential message. I still do that in a way – let a poem sink in and then paint its impression, rarely a literal interpretation. What I gain from collaborations is a prompt, a way of thinking unlike my own, so that I can produce work I never would have dreamed of working solo. When I work with any writer, they always have the last word on if a piece is successful or not. The writers as well seem to appreciate seeing their words on canvas because art is a form of communication.
My deepest collaboration experience was with fiction writer Charlie M. Broderick. She wrote a short story, “Tree in Winter” which I had the honor to paint. The story was about June, a young painter with schizophrenia. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful, brilliant and haunting piece of writing. With that project I could delve into the story on a level I never accomplished before. We recently had a show at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in Minnesota, and Charlie read part of her story. It was a special night and moving for the audience, who seemed to hold its breath during the reading.
NS: When did you first know you wanted to be a painter, and how did you go about pursuing that?
SS: I just always loved to paint, even as a little kid. Maybe all kids like to paint and draw and color and scribble; I just never stopped. I started out taking serious classes a few years after high school in a community college in Las Vegas. My teacher at that time was a young woman from UCLA. She instructed me to leave Las Vegas and go to a real city with real art because it was impossible to learn painting from looking at pictures of paintings! So I moved to Philadelphia and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
NS: Why do you make art? Why should anyone?
SS: I do it because I love it. My art is about intuition and memory, the theory that we all know what we love but sometimes forget that. I know that sometimes the very things I thrive on are the same things I insist on pushing away. I hope art is worthwhile. Sometimes a person will say they want to enter one of my paintings, and that is when I know personally the “should” of it. I read an interview with Edward Hirsch, where he said “poetry is a human fundamental, like music. It is a form of necessary speech, a way of knowing, which predates literacy and precedes prose in all literatures. There has probably never been a culture without it. I think poetry brings a crucial kind of information, a message from the interior, which is important for our lives.” That quote works just as well if you substitute the words “art” or “paintings” for poetry. And when I think of the images people respond to, like the moon, like birds flying, I cannot help but think we need some of the knowing that Mr. Hirsch refers to, the permission to tap into our intuitions because that is where we’re the most human and free.
Susan Solomon is a freelance paintress. She grew up in Las Vegas, where blazing sunsets and glowing neon firmly influenced her color sense. Her formal art education took place in Philly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Susan is now a longtime resident of the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area, surrounded by subtle color and the spacious Midwest landscape. This spectacular environment is currently the influence for her paintings, although the focus is really on landscape and memory, the blending of environment and intuition. Over the past few years as well, she has collaborated with many poets and fiction writers, painting the impressions their words leave. The words are their own landscape and an endless source of inspiration.