Briefly describe the work you do.
I create artwork that waivers between 2-3 dimensions. My site specific installations are often patterned with designs found in nature, illustrating inherent movements. I repurpose recycled and manufactured materials which are culturally imbued with meaning as contemporary artifacts. Much of my work constructs views of “systems” found in the natural world. These systems contemplate daily life into meaningful structures that demonstrate transformative life processes such growth and decay. Ethereal at times, the patterns range from birds in flight to the movement of ants, released spores to the internal physics of blushing and the flow of oil spills. As landscapes, they make visualize a changing environment.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up with parents that valued traditional arts, in a large development of track homes that replaced a rich forested area that served as my playground until eventually it disappeared. Nature was my observation deck. I collected it, made things with it and navigated through it’s daily changes. The loss of the forest was my loss as well. It never left me, and later entered as a pivotal basis from which my work departs.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio”.
My Studio is generally the space in which my work gets installed. That is where the magic happens where all the components that I build over a period of months come together. My process involves working in troves of famine or feast. I can go 4 to 6 months not making working. During these months I make notations, sketches, gather and collect shapes, forms, materials to consider then I hibernate and process what I’ve collected and start to work. Many of my ideas are rooted in environmental decay, the beauty of what was, the disappearance of it or damage to it and what remains.
I’ve had a series of traditional studios away from my home for a number of years. Some were larger than 1000 ft. I miss having that kind of space where I could spread out and where light flooded my work. I had to downsize and my studio became a large basement which is now filled with the storage of my work. Today I build my forms primarily on a long dining room table as my central workspace. I used to make work derived from sound and music I could never work without sound. That has changed. I desire either silence or background noise as meditative sound usually in the form of TV programs. When I have that need I will work in a room filled with books and artwork by others artists, a couch a small table and TV set. This allows me to build in a methodical repetitive manner of multiple forms that eventually get put together as one huge piece.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I think every artist is a sort of court jesture for society, their work reflecting on some level the times, its order chaos or social morass. Often my subject matter draws attention to serious issues effecting nature so it is with great pleasure that my work contributes to a broader dialogue about environmental issues. As a teacher and educator it allows me the opportunity and privilege to help students delve into personal motivations and teach them how to work from their strengths.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
The best time for me to make art is inbetween jobs. No set day or time but I will always plan for a 2 day minimum artwork week . When I am in the throws of an idea I will work for a 10 hour period or longer. I am nocturnal getting my best ideas before sleep. Since my studio is in my home I find myself waking up at night and putting in extra time which can go on for weeks until it effects my ability to function well.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
It has grown in size encompassing 50 foot walls and consuming the viewer within that space, as well as pushing the limits of what a material can do. It engages the viewer more directly through touch. Yet it still addresses natures evolution, perhaps more intimately.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Waldens Pond had a profound impact on me when I was a young girl. Later in life writers like Annie Dillard, Diane Ackerman and Bachelard allowed me to expand my thinking on nature. So many artists have impacted my work otherwise. Robert Wilson and James Turrell for their use of light, Andy Goldsworthy collaborating with nature, Linda Benglis experimenting with the alchemy of a material and Judy Pfaff’s ability to explode two dimensions into a living breathing three dimensional space.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I can’t imagine having an occupation outside of being an artist. It’s who I am I live and breathe it, but I suppose I do have an occupation work wise supporting myself. I teach in a community college and in the past I have worked as a director of education in museums I have run a 1% for Public Art Program for a city and I have been an independent contractor doing grant writing and overseeing administrative aspects of art related projects for others I have to work I need to bring in an income. My ideal job would be overseeing a private collection.
Suzan Shutan lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut. An MFA graduate of Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts, NJ and BFA graduate of California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA, Suzan is a recipient of many awards that include three CT Office of the Arts Fellowship in Sculpture, a CEC Artslink grant, Art Matters grant, Berkshire Taconic Foundation A.R.T grant and she was a Federal Public Art Project finalist. She has attended artist residencies at Bemis Foundation, Yaddo and Proyecto Ace in Buenos Aires, Argentina where she was awarded a mid career artist-exhibition residency.
Her work has been shown throughout the United States and Europe. She just completed a large installation at Zacheta National Gallery of Contemporary Art in Warsaw, Poland running through February 2015 and exhibited at Kenise Barnes Gallery, NY and Storefront Ten Eyck in Brooklyn in 2014. In 2013 her work was included in the Biennial Internationale d’art non objective Pont de Claix in Grenoble, France and in 2012 a twenty-foot relief sculpture made of tar roofing paper was on exhibit at the Bank of America Plaza in Charlotte North Carolina for one year.
Suzan Shutan’s work has been favorably reviewed by the NY Times, Art New England Magazine and High Performance Magazine. She is listed in 2010 Art in America Magazine with the Islip Art Museum in NY. Her work can be found in private and public collections such as the Villa Taverna Foundation, University of California Los Angles and the Swedish Archives in Bjaard. She teaches Sculpture at Housatonic Community College in Connecticut and is a mentor for MFA students in low residency programs in the Northeast USA.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.