Suzy Smith’s cover piece, “LOVE,” can be seen at RJD Gallery in Bridgehampton. The Wyoming-born artist talks about her process, how she became interested in fine art and more.
What was the inspiration of this piece?
This painting was inspired by the look of innocence and hope on the model’s face—her youthfulness and openness for love. After choosing this image to paint, I felt that Robert Indiana’s painting “LOVE” was the perfect pairing for the background, especially considering the meanings behind the colors and the roses. Red roses stand for passion, true love, romance and desire. And the rose itself symbolizes promise, new beginnings, and hope.
Talk about your artistic process.
My process starts with gathering ideas and making props for a photo shoot. The photo shoot is where the real creativity begins! My model and I discuss my ideas and plans for the shoot, and then she brings my ideas to life, adding her own unique style. After the shoot I choose one photo from hundreds of photos to paint. Sometimes I have a background planned, and sometimes I don’t. The figurative image is the most important element for me, and dictates the background. I always paint the figure first, and then add the background, painting each area at least twice. The paint quality is important to me, and I especially love having a textured background.
How did you get started in art?
I have wanted to be an artist since I was in 2nd grade. I grew up in Casper, WY, a small town with no art museums or art galleries, so I remember looking at the family bible that included wonderful paintings from the Renaissance. I knew I wanted to paint like that! Being raised Catholic is where I saw all my art, in the churches. For such a small town, we had three Catholic churches. Statues, stained glass windows and paintings of Jesus, Mary and the Saints were my inspiration. When I was a teenager I would devour my mother’s issues of fashion magazines like Vogue and Glamour, and I think my current work is very influenced by that culture and style of the ’60s and ’70s, which is also the era of the pop art.
I got married at 18, and had my children when I was 18 and 21, so after my youngest turned 2 I started taking life drawing classes at night, at the local community college. By then our town had one art gallery and one art museum, but I spent a lot of time dragging my kids to the library to look for art books to learn art history, and study contemporary art. I started painting still life in watercolor, and began my “art career,” by entering the local and state fairs. I always won, so I started entering shows around the country that I found listed in the back of art magazines. We eventually moved to Fairfield, CA, when I was around 29, and I took my work to a gallery in Napa, and she took me on the spot.
What inspires your work?
As I get older, I am more interested in speaking my truth, and experiences in life, through my art. I am inspired by Pop Art, and contemporary art that I can incorporate into my own work, using layers of strong design and color to tell a story, or many stories within one painting. I want viewers of my paintings to feel something, or at the least enjoy a visual feast of paint application, color, and design.
A lot of your work involves portraits of women. Talk a little about that.
For the past few years my focus has been on painting women who are strong, sensual and sometimes vulnerable. I paint these women from a female perspective, and place them against a background appropriated from iconic art images, mostly Pop Art, that adds to their story; such as dollar signs, numbers, and the American Flag. The subtle narrative I can create pairing symbols and design with the look and mood of my model is what drives the painting, bringing a cohesiveness to the piece. I feel that they are all self portraits in some way.
Whereas my paintings used to be more of a “Pin Up” style, using tongue in cheek humor, as is prevalent in Pop Art, they are evolving into a more thoughtful narrative, commenting on our current cultural climate and the Me Too movement.
Where else can your work be seen?
My work can be seen at RJD Gallery in Bridgehampton, Abend Gallery in Denver, Colorado and in the permanent collections at the Nicolaysen Art Museum, in Casper, Wyoming, and the Museo Internacional de Arte, in Guadalajara, Mexico.