Spotlight: Susan Jane

Community Spotlight For Artists

We talked with Susan Jane, in this Pride In Business Community Spotlight for Artists, in partnership with TD.

By Fraser Tripp

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Susan Jane is a Calgary painter who grew up surrounded by art. After a hiatus in her practice, she returned to painting recently and has focused on oil-based portraits.

Pride In Business: How did you get started painting portraits?

Susan Jane: I grew up in the art industry. I've been painting since I could hold a pencil. My mother is a sculptor and so we always had an art gallery, we always went to art shows. She did the bigger than life-size sculpture outside of the BMO Centre. The horse and cowboy. I kind of put it away for a number of years when I entered my twenties and didn't really do it again for a long time. I started up again a little over a year actually and kind of just got really addicted to it again. 

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PIB: Was there anything in particular that reignited your desire to paint? 

SJ: Well, I had a really traumatic experience a surrogate. I lost the baby quite late term and it was heartbreaking for everyone. I don't think I've ever been so devastated in my whole entire life. So, I just needed something to really lose myself in. Otherwise I was just in this big black hole. I mean, you don't probably don't want to talk about that. It's kind of depressing but, at the same time, I took a couple of classes with my old art teacher at Swinton's Art Supply — he's the owner — and I just immersed myself in it and it was the best kind of therapy I could have ever asked for. 

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PIB: I'm sorry to hear about that experience but thank you for sharing that.

SJ: Yeah, no problem. 

PIB: Your work is very engaging in the way that a lot of the subjects are looking straight at you, as if the subject's eyes seem to follow you. What inspires you to paint from that perspective? 

SJ: You know, I'm not really sure how that came about, but I've been told that a couple of times. I guess, if I see a photo that really strikes me — showing a lot of emotion or personality — those are the kind of images that I like to work from. I guess I really like striking images and something a little shocking, that strikes you as having life in it. I want it to look like a painting. I don't want to ever do photorealism and sometimes I really have to fight my left brain not to copy the photo. I have to think like, "Hey, right brain, let's put some big brushstrokes in here."

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PIB: Do you have long roots within Calgary?

SJ: I was born in B.C. and spent most of my childhood there, but we were always down in Scottsdale at galleries, or California, Las Vegas or here in Calgary, being sort of the biggest western art Mecca for Canada. In my early teens we moved to Bragg Creek. Yeah, some pretty deep roots for sure.

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PIB: Have you noticed any major differences in the arts scene from the time that you took a break to returning?

SJ: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the art world is still so much the same. I'm experiencing so many of the same things I would hear my parents talk about, for better and for worse. I'm really so happy you guys are having this event because I find that the art community in Calgary is not very cohesive and it's very cliquey. So that's kind've been the difference from when I left the Calgary art scene till coming back. It just doesn't seem as supportive as it once was.

PIB: How do you see art fitting into the queer community?

SJ: Well, you know, I just find that community to be a very supportive, empathetic, creative community. I've had the pleasure of meeting Abeiya Miraj and Perla Coddington and they're so creative. Perla, there's a couple of photos of her that I'm planning on painting. But they're a creative, colorful, artistic group. I love it. It's fun, it's happy, and it's encouraging.

PIB: A number of the pieces that you submitted for the show have a really dynamic movement to them. Why did you select those? 

SJ: I know some of them are quite different from each other. I've got one with latex and then some that are on the softer side. I was trying to pick something that was colourful or would speak to people. I wanted to pick pieces that would kind of be fun because the last event I went to that Pride In Business was a part of was the Paperman Wine launch and it was just such a fun, colourful, happy event. Some of my paintings aren't so much, but most of them are. 

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PIB: A lot of your work also focuses on the nude form. What drew you to work with that sort of imagery over anything else? 

SJ: I guess I just really like the nude body and sort of pushing the card a little bit. Here in Calgary, you really don't see a lot of that. Most of my work sells down in the states — I've got collectors in Detroit and Omaha. I've sold a couple of nudes out here, which I'm quite proud of these clients who are going out on a limb. But I just really the naked form. I like the empowerment of it. The funny thing is social media will allow you to post nudity in painting or sculpting form, whereas they won't in fine art photography form. So that's just sort of my way of trying to make nudity a little more acceptable. 

PIB: Subverting the filters as it were. 

SJ: Yeah. But, you know, I just find it empowering. Some people find nudity empowering, some people don't. And I do. 

PIB: You're working on a number of pieces at a time, is that right?

SJ: Yeah, I have pretty severe ADHD, so I always have to have about five or more pieces on the go. I just love to be able to kind of switch back and forth and mix it up and change pace for a bit. 

PIB: What draws you back to work on a piece?

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SJ: Some pieces I'm really driven to work on and I'll go back to them until they're done and sometimes I'll finish them in one sitting. Sometimes it's the person, a personal connection. If it's somebody I know or just even spoken to online and just had a good connection with, it's just so much easier to work on that piece and get it done. I can just enjoy it so much. 

PIB: You primarily work off of photographs then?

SJ: I do. I've done a little bit of life painting and drawing, but I like to come back and forth, to and from a piece. So, it's easier just to work from a photo because then it's always available. When I started painting, I mostly did landscapes. My parents put me in private fine arts classes when I was 16. What they wanted me to do was landscape because that's what sold. It wasn't what I loved, but that's what sold. And then I became an adult and went back to it and I went with what I love: people. 

PIB: What was it about oil painting that made you want to pursue that route instead of sculpture?

SJ: I guess because I always really liked working with paper and canvas. My mom was such a famous sculptor in that time frame that it was kind of intimidating. I didn't even really want to try it. It just didn't come as naturally to me as painting and drawing did. 

PIB: What inspires your equine paintings? 

SJ: Well, I grew up on a small farm, so I always had my own horse growing up. We had numerous horses and I was one of those little girls that was obsessed with them. I find when I'm looking at photos online, the ones I'm most attracted to are nude poses and horses in really interesting poses. Someone said to me recently that horses are sexy, and I was like, "yeah, actually you're right." Just like, the human form can be very sexy and beautiful, horses are sexy and beautiful. 

PIB: There's a reason they name a lot of sports cars after them, right?

SJ: Yeah, exactly. I like the lines and the curves and they kind of both have that.

PIB: Was there anything that I may not have touched on that you'd like to include?

SJ: When they say art is therapy, I really always kind of poopooed that. Like, "no, not really. If you need therapy, go to a therapist." But, holy crap is it ever. When they made the term art therapy, it really, really, truly, it's a thing. So, I definitely encourage more art therapy for everyone. 

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Fernando VargasCalgary