We Are Beautiful, Susan Jamison
Prick, Susan Jamison
Curious Walk, Susan Jamison
Prayer of Protection, Susan Jamison
Susan Jamison in her studio
I first came across Susan Jamison's beautiful paintings while on Chelsea gallery tour a few years back. I fell in love immediately with the way her images brought together the human figure and the natural world. Ever since I was a kid reading My Side of the Mountain and rambling the yet undeveloped sections of my subdivision I have been looking for ways to keep connected to nature and my own inner wilderness. I am able to go there when I enter the visual world of Susan Jamison.
I was able to do an interview with Susan the other day and now I have the honor of sharing that with you here.
Susan, can you share something regarding how you got started on the path of art making?
I have always known this was what I was supposed to do. In grade school I wrote “A Book About Me” and illustrated it with a drawing of myself painting. As a child I was always drawing, building furniture for and decorating my dollhouse, making costumes, pretty much what I still do now on a different scale. For me, an academic education felt right and I was able to attend James Madison University for undergraduate school and Rhode Island School of Design for my MFA in painting. The classes I took tended to be skill oriented like drawing, all forms of printmaking, photography, Renaissance painting techniques (oil, egg tempera, gilding). Now I have a pretty full toolbox of techniques I am versed in.
2. Was there a particular person or experience that impacted you in a significant way when your were just getting your feet under you as an artist?
There were two professors I had a James Madison University that were very significant to my development. Steve Zapton who was my photography teacher, gave exceptionally articulate critiques. No matter what I made, Steve always had a suggestion to make it better. He would incorporate fascinating stories into his crits about things he had seen like tiny kites made inside the eye of a needle and the little bows on the kite tail made of a hair. Steve would load us up in a van every year and take us to New York and bring us to all the good galleries. These were my first experiences in New York. I always thought he was so brave for doing this.
Jack McCaslin was my printmaking professor at JMU. He taught me lithography, relief printing, screen printing and intaglio. The print studio was in the basement of a women’s dorm at the time and it was very very clean. If Jack found ink of a certain color not properly cleaned up he would figure out who was using that color and a note would be left in the student’s flat file drawer. It was a quiet kind of wrath. Music from around the world was part of the environment in the print studio and Jack turned everyone on to all kinds of new music. I still have to listen to music while I work. My printmaking classes were filled with some incredibly talented students and the environment had a friendly kind of competition. We would hang out and work on our editions until all hours of the night and sometimes he would still be there in his office. Jack has a magnetic personality, everyone loved him and we all strove to do well in his classes. I recently contacted him to put his work in a show I curated. Of course, I still have a crush on this man.
In your work the natural world seems very powerfully present. Can you share something about your relationship with nature? Like we're you a kid who caught frogs and turtles?
When I was a kid my family had moved from Connecticut to Indiana, just north of Indianapolis. My father was a nut and he decided to buy a big piece of land in the southern part of the state near Kentucky. We would go there every weekend and for summers and live like the wilderness family with no electricity and no running water. Eventually we build a little lake and moved a tiny three room house onto the land and a proper outhouse was erected. I spent lots of time in the woods looking for moss beds to nap on, building fairy houses from rocks and mud along the edge of the lake and endlessly swimming on assignment to pull cattails. I walked through creeks looking for geodes and fossils along with critters. My mother taught me a lot about birds, wildflowers, animals and spiders. She would explain why it is a rare and special thing to see a fox. I never thought I would remember the names of all those birds. Most of the birds and animals I paint now, live in my region in the Southwestern part of Virginia. I still view the sighting of a fox or a bear with symbolic meaning.
I would be cool to hear some detail about what kind of working routines and rituals you have that work (or don't work) for you.
I really like to work during daylight hours. I’m really kind of a 9-5 girl. It is easier on my eyes for me to paint with daylight and I also like having a routine in sync with the hours most people are working. For me, it is best to have a studio outside my home so I don’t get distracted by housekeeping chores. Monday morning is studio cleaning time then I mess it up again during the week. I mentioned earlier that I always listen to music while I work, my studio seems lonely and empty without it.
Do you have any advice that you would offer to artists just starting out?
Whatever opportunity you have that is the best one in front of you, take it, even if it is just showing your work in a coffee shop. Your coffee shop show should be the best one you can possibly produce. Learn to work with the pressure of the deadlines that come with showing your work. If you don’t know what exhibitions, residencies, grants, etc. to apply for study the resumes of people who are where you want to be. See what they did to get there and then do that. When you apply for different opportunities, you will received the dreaded thin envelope or rejection email but don’t get discouraged. Try again next year and the next and don’t stop. If you find a gallery who wants to work with you, be cooperative and responsive and deliver work on time. Allow the staff to help you set prices. Don’t be that artist who “isn’t good at the business stuff”, you need to get good at it, end of story. When you discuss your career on social networking sites, accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Nobody has to know you didn’t get into Skowhegan. Guess what? I didn’t either.
6. What would you hope might happen to people who spend time with your paintings, especially those who live with them daily?
My work is allegorical and as with all art each person’s own life experience and education is the filter through which they enter and interpret. I would hope that a person who lives with my work daily will find new meanings as they personally grow and change and have new life experiences. Or maybe on some days they just enjoy the colors, the way the fur on an animal looks or the feathers on bird.