Interview: Susan Carr
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
“Totem to Chiron,” 11x28x4, oil on wood.
1) Could you introduce yourself and your background (including education)?
Hi Chun, thank you so much for your generosity! I am very happy to do this interview and feel honored by your kindness.
My name is Susan Carr I am a mother, grandmother and artist. I reside in Cape Cod Massachusetts. My studio is basically my whole house. I paint, draw and do collage in the basement. I cut pieces of wood for sculpture outside in the backyard with a hand held jigsaw as well as clay for ceramics at the kitchen at my table. My computer is in an empty bedroom and that is where the writing happens.
I have had Lyme disease and have most of my life, which has led to other medical issues. I try really hard to take care of my body, but sometimes it is hard. I love chocolate!
I graduated from The School of The Museum of Fine Arts Boston at Tufts in 2003 with a semester at Radcliffe. I achieved my MFA with a focus in photography, video, and installation.
I was eighteen when I received a full tuition out of high school to go to SMFA at Tufts. I was already a mom and it was tough to leave my daughter to go to school. Every couple years or so I would have to stop school and take a break as I had two more children in six years. I really took my time as my children needed me and they came first. SMFA was about eighty miles away so I had to wake up super early as well as my children to drive back and forth daily. I am the first person in my immediate family to go to college and I felt a huge amount of responsibility to my children and to my parents to go to college. All three of my children have been to college and two graduated with honors. I have several grandchildren that are very interested in the arts. This makes me the most proud and also ignites my desire to be the kind of person they can be proud of.
Ceramic bowl glazed.
2) What are your different styles and mediums, and why do you use oil paint?
I still use oil paint because I love the color, the viscosity, the smell the ability to make thick paintings. I began my painting studies in oil and have never been able to change primary mediums. That said I do paint in gouache, acrylic, watercolor, spray paint and enamel.
My different styles were never something I set out to do intentionally. They just came about because I think I needed change, and I was curious. I never stop myself from exploring my own ideas. I never allow myself to put filters on good from bad. All art is allowed and necessary as it helps to grow the initial thing you are doing. I like change too I enjoy changing up ideas.
I make self portraits, which I hope I can turn into bigger paintings. You could say I make paintings that happen to be sculptures. I make eye paintings and have since my son passed. These pieces are so important to me, they are a way for me to communicate my love for my son. I make abstract paintings with added pieces of painted wood, yarn, mixed. These pieces are formulaic and I enjoy how they challenge me. I make large dolls out of fabric painted in acrylic. I make ceramics with glaze. I make collage with old photography and gouache. I make books and zines and that is fun. If I could go back to slumping glass I would. SMFA was a great school in that you could try everything and I did.
“The Princess,” 12x12, oil on wood.
3) Why do you paint portraits
The eye paintings are for me a kind of sacred language. The eye, which is a circle is the oldest of marks as it has no recorded history. It is closely related to geometry, astrology and astronomy. The circle is eternal and forever. My eye paintings are a kind of illuminated manuscript as I studied Medieval History and Medieval art history in school and found the manuscripts so engaging. One has to learn to read the different objects on the page because they are all metaphors for something else. My eye paintings are metaphorical too and mean something different to everyone that "reads" them.
“Just the two of us,” 17x20, oil on wood, 2021.
4) Why do you paint the eyes?
Because of photography I learned to document faces of my family, I learned to see clearly. Painting my portrait is the hardest thing I do. I do these paintings primarily to stretch myself, grow new muscles and learn new ways of communicating.
”Zombie princess,” 9x12, 2021, oil on wood.
5) What is the significance of the dot for the nose in some of your paintings?
Somehow the dot on the nose just happened, it is playful carefree and abstract. There is a cartoonish quality to the dot being a nose somewhat like short hand.
“Chiron the healer,” oil on wood.
6) Why do you call art, "work?"
I have just been asking myself why I call my art "work". Art is transcendent and angelic but for the muse to remain one must make work everyday no matter what kind of art it is. When one is making art on a daily basis it feels a bit like work. I feel good having a place to go, having "work" to do. I am very grateful for my art as it has saved me many times.
Original collage with gouache, personal photographs, original photographic work, paper found from various books, pen, 11x14, 2021 (A part of a printed zine/ book titled, “all of my love”).
7) What do you enjoy about making collages, zines, and books? How do they differ from your painting practice? In what ways are they similar?
The thing I like about collage is how they are like a puzzle and how within some images I am trying to tell the viewers some secrets. The secrets appear as I make the collage and always surprise me. The viewer is a participant in the art making process. It is like a love affair. I enjoy gouache very much I love looking through old books for just the right thing. I love making zines and books because I write poetry and memoir. This is one way to get my writing out of my bedroom!
“The Mystic,” Oil painted Vase, 2020, 17x13x2.
8) Studying astrology, how are you influenced by spiritual beliefs and information in your work?
I am studying astrology right now and find it very life affirming. I have been to Zen mountain monastery several times when I was younger and was an avid meditator for some time. Painting is now my meditation and several of my sculptures have been dedicated to Chiron the wounded healer and to Pythagoras who taught the "transmigration of souls" and the famous Pythagorean theory. Chiron in astrology is a centaur who was famous for his medicine but had a wound that never would heal. He has a long and interesting myth. I enjoy mythic stories very much and I am drawn to ancient myths especially.
“The wood bead game,”12x27x2, oil on fabric wrapped and stapled on wood with string, wood beads and oil painted studio cloth.
9) Who are some of the artists who influence your art? Do you see them as friends and mentors or do you also enjoy a competitive mindset in your artistic practice?
Some artists who influence me and yes they are all my mentors. Guston is number one with me his work always makes me cry. I love Louise Bourgeois because she did many kinds of art and never stopped making. Louise's curiosity kept her work fresh. I think of Louise quite a bit. I love Alice Neel for her empathy and ability to understand and get inside her subjects. I adore Auerbach for his relentlessness. I have found that competitiveness ruins creativity. I think if we all work together collaboratively our art gets better.
“Fine Balance,” oil on wood.
10) Some of your previous abstract paintings with heavy impasto remind me of Frank Auerbach's figurative abstract works or Willem de Kooning's abstract paintings. You have then applied the impasto to a more cartoonistic and playful imagery of figures and characters. Do you find yourself naturally inclined to depict these colorful characters because you feel more comfortable with them in some way? Do you find any issues with the abstraction or the attitude in the works of Frank Auerbach and Willem de Kooning?
In my art life I have been first a portrait painter, then I was a totally abstract painter and now I am painting whatever I want. When I was very young I won an art contest for my piece "girl watching ants" . I think it was probably the best thing I have ever done. Picasso said "It took me four years to paint like Raphael but a lifetime to paint like a child". I am trying to unburden myself of past traumas, past heavy emotion by painting the girls. The girls with their princess crowns and silly smiles makes me happy. Happy is where its at in the last analysis.
Page from pandemic zine in the making, 11x14, 2021.
(Susan Carr's works, including those featured in the interview, are on view at her solo exhibition titled, "Yonder," at the LABspace gallery in Hillsdale NY.)