IN THE STUDIO WITH SUSAN RAND
A Brave Tale of a Traumatized Child, a Depressed Empty Nester, and a Thriving Artist
When I went to interview artist Susan Rand in her studio in Salisbury, CT, I was expecting to hear a tale of artistic liberation and creative inspiration that came with seeing your children go off to school and start their own lives. Instead, and very unexpectedly, we quickly found common ground on disrupted childhoods, death and trauma, and debilitating feelings like depression. The tale that unfolds here is one of incredible honesty and bravery of how Susan tackles the aftermath of her past with bold paintings of bright colors, eerie tones, and moments of humor. Personally, this has been my most fulfilling interview to write to date.
acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 in / 91.44 x 121.92 cm, 2022
Let’s begin with your upbringing. Where were you born and raised?
Well, it was a complicated upbringing. I was raised in Greenwich, CT, right on Vineyard Lane, until family misfortune led to my siblings and me moving to Delaware to live with our aunt and uncle. You see, we lost our parents in terrible accidents, each eight months apart, when I was only fourteen.
To make things further complicated, I had gone to Montessori school (it was the first one in the country and it had started with 15 kids in my aunt’s barn), and I had a very experimental education rather than a traditional one. When I arrived in Wilmington, DE., I needed a tutor to help me catch up on History, English and Math, and I felt very isolated and intimidated at my new school.
So yes, it was a traumatic, scary, and sometimes troubled upbringing.
Walking on Water
acrylic on panel, 26 x 46 in / 66.04 x 116.84 cm, 2022
What was your first introduction to art?
I didn’t grow up with art in my life part from the one time my mother hired an artist to do a portrait of me and my siblings. I’ve always really liked that painting.
The first time I really noticed art, though, was when I was in seventh grade the infirmary at my school had a poster of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which I found to be really cool. The school's are program did not have a significant impact on me but I always enjoyed making things with my hands like batik.
Old Friends Swimming
oil on canvas, 26 x 30 in / 66.04 x 76.2 cm, 2021
When did you start evolving as an artist?
In January of my last year of high school, I took the month off to work as a photographer for the local Wilmington newspaper. I loved it and the experience was the focus of my senior project.
My first real evolution into an artist was when I went to Goddard College in Vermont to pursue my major in photography. I had a fantastic teacher, who not only pushed us, but also taught us how to really look for what we wanted to capture and to see with our feelings. It was a great liberal arts school and very similar to Bard.
From there I started hand coloring my black and white photographs, and then I evolved into manipulating polaroid SX-70 film. I would take a toothpick or a cuticle pusher and mush around the emulsion of the film once they came out of the camera (they were very cool and a lot of fun) and then draw over the picture with pastels. I had my favorite ones blown up and printed onto large canvases. These works became my first show at the Norfolk, CT library in 1999.
acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 in / 91.44 x 121.92 cm, 2023
If photography was your first medium, how did you become a painter?
Well, it was a journey brought on by depression. Prior to my first show, I had raised three children (George, Lilly, and Charlotte) with my husband in Salisbury, CT, as well as had a career in real estate. During those years I was busy, happy, and felt fulfilled. When my youngest Charlotte went off to boarding school, and we became what's called, "empty nesters," I began to feel different. I did not know what was wrong with me and I felt very frightened. It was like something was festering inside of me.
The real change came when I had an accident. I fell twelve feet (I was commissioned to do three SX-70 film portraits of a house that was under construction) that knocked me unconscious and shattered my wrist. It was when I was lying in the hospital that this voice started screaming at me, it was my subconscious talking to me, telling me to quit my job and begin painting.
As soon as I could drive again, I started taking drawing and painting classes in Great Barrington, MA. It was unbelievable hard. I had a fantasy that I would learn in three months, but instead it took time and patience. I kept at it, and here I am today, and I am happy.
oil on canvas, 20 x 40 in / 50.8 x 101.6 cm, 2021
You now have a new show, Sink or Swim, at Standard Space.
What was the core inspiration for the pieces?
Every summer my family and I spend August at the beach. While most people are busy swimming or tanning, I like to keep my hands occupied by painting. One day I got tired of lugging my gear around and getting sand everywhere that I started to sketch. They were very fast and crude sketches, but I really liked them. I also wanted to challenge and push myself by painting from memory and my imagination. And yes, some of the pieces have been wacky, but there you go, that is how it all evolved to become my new show.
My previous work was more realistic. I would either sit outside or sit in the car
with my dogs and paint from direct observation like a barn alone in a field. Yet,
the voice remains very similar in my two types of works. There is an edginess
and there is more to each piece than first meets the eye.
acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 in / 91.44 x 121.92 cm, 2022
I have heard your paintings described as being eerie and haunting. Would you agree?
Yes, they are haunting, and I believe it is a response to that feeling of when will the other shoe drop. It is that foreboding sensation of thinking everything is going too well that something bad must be waiting for me around the corner. While I am creating art based on these feelings, it is also about being real.
Sometimes when I’m painting it’s as if I’m not alone. Things start to happen I feel all sorts of buried emotions coming to the surface that I couldn’t possibly describe in words. It’s scary, it’s exciting, it makes me feel alive.
acrylic on panel, 26 x 46 in / 66.04 x 116.84 cm, 2023
Last but not least, what is your favorite piece in the current show?
Well, I love Green Raft and its colors and mystery. I also love Walking On Water. They both have a similar flavor: while they clearly have a dark side, they are also funny. I like the dichotomy of the humor and the colors, and they remind me that I felt very free while painting them.
April 1 - May 7
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