Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Art Space Talk: Suzanne Unrein

Pastoral, oil on canvas, 62.25 x 53

Brian Sherwin: Suzanne, I observed that you take three directions with your work. You have an ongoing series of paintings, drawings, and portraits. Does each series of works feed off the other? In other words, do your drawings inform your paintings… and your paintings inform your portraits, so to speak? Also, do you prefer one body of work over the other?

Suzanne Unrein: The paintings originated out of the drawings. I had been living in Mexico and was working on a series of drawings that were oil on clay paper. They worked like daily visual diaries that started out as gestures and then became very sculptural in form as the applying and erasing evolved.

Shortly after I moved back to the States, I took a trip to London and saw Rubens’ Massacre of the Innocents. I was excited and began thinking about the sculptural forms in my drawings. I decided to try a painting inspired by that Rubens work, using the technique I had developed through the drawings. That was the start of a body of work reconstructing the old masters as abstract paintings.

I have been interested in portraits throughout my life. I like the forced discipline of the genre, and they provide a yin to the yang of my more abstract work. All three ongoing bodies of work inform each other. On a given day, one may seem more important to work on than another, depending on where I am creatively.
BS: Suzanne, when I view your paintings I’m reminded of classic works, such as The Rape of the Sabine. You are obviously influenced by the Old Masters and other artists from the past. You drawings contain some of the same movements, so to speak. Can you discuss that influence? Perhaps you can go into detail about specific influences?

SU: I find great joy in the Old Masters and am very much inspired by the dramatic impact created by the composition and colors. When I first turned to them after making the drawings, I was having an artistic crisis with my works on canvas. I was blocked and not sure how to proceed. The Old Masters seemed so alive compared to what I was working on at the time, and I felt that I could learn something from going back to that source. While Rubens is a particular favorite, I’m also a big fan of Poussin, Raphael, Correggio, and Bougereau.
Antic Hay, oil on canvas, 80 x 68

BS: Tell us more about the thoughts behind your work. For example, is there a specific message that you strive to convey to viewers of your work?

SU: My interest in the Old Masters came from a desire to get back to the joy of why I started painting in the first place. By playing with the compositions – mixing Bougereau’s nymphs with Poussin’s – I’m both taking weight off of the work as well as bowing to these great icons.

BS: Tell us more about your creative process and the methods and techniques that you utilize…

SU: The drawings are oil on clay paper, and they are painted gestures that I then erase with turpentine and a rag to create sculptural forms. The works on canvas begin with creating collages. I take old master figures and reconfigure them into new compositions. I use these as inspirations for the paintings. My painting technique is similar to the drawings, although they involve quite a few more layers.
F-86, oil on canvas, 59 x 69

BS: Can you discuss some of your current work? What are you working on at this time?

SU: Right now I am interested in combining the still life genre with portraiture. My current canvas is inspired by Rubens’ Portrait of a Man as the God Mars, with a van Huysum flower arrangement on his head.

BS: Let us step back and discuss the role of art history within the context of your work. It often seems that people dismiss the past when striving to create a ‘new’ art. Everyone wants to be the ’first’ even though art history informs us that they are walking on the shoes of many other artists who came before--- everyone wants to be ‘remembered’ while not taking the time to remember those who came before. That said, would you say that a connection to the art of the past is needed in the art world of today more than ever--- especially on the academic level?

SU: A connection to the art of the past is extremely important to me. I couldn’t say what is needed in the art world.
The World Inside the Wrist, oil on canvas, 65 x 87

BS: Do you have any other thoughts or observations concerning the art world of today?

SU: With the technology of today, we are able to see so much more work on a global level, that it’s very exciting. Through art websites I’ve seen amazing paintings that I would not have had the chance to see otherwise. I’m optimistic that the internet will open the art world up to lesser recognized artists and their work.

BS: Finally, where can our readers see your work in person? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

SU: My main focus at the moment is producing this next body of work. I have a studio residency at PS 122 and will be doing a month residency this winter at the Jentel Foundation. I hope by late spring to have a body of work together to show in New York.

You can learn more about Suzanne Unrein by visiting her website-- Suzanne is currently a member of the myartspace community-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

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