Q: You are well known for your series of paintings dedicated to the portrayal of barns. How did this series begin for you?
Suzanne Crocker: Yes, I began to give a lot of attention to barns 10 years ago when I was doing an artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Wolf Kahn was there at that time, and I recall painting en plein air with him. It was probably in painting Gary’s barn that I was hooked. I found myself in awe of barns for their massiveness and simple, strong lines set against expansive skies and fields. There was something about barns, especially when the light was cast upon them in a strong way, that made them feel alive. It may harken back to my childhood when one of my favorite books was The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton. That is a story of a house who has a “face” and feelings; she enjoys watching the children in her apple orchard, but she is saddened when the city builds up around her. To this day I tend to see barns as having feelings like she (the little house) did. I can imagine barns as experiencing their environment, and especially, I can imagine the warmth of the sun or the cool of the shade that barns may feel in the presence or absence of the sunlight or moonlight. There is something, too, about that light, which I love because it connects a barn to something larger than itself. It is a reminder that while something may appear alone in this world, really everything is connected. I’m a strong believer in a universal consciousness. I believe everything is energy and that all of the energy is interconnected in some way. We, the animate and inanimate, are all one. There is an invisible thread through us all. As for the barns being my focus, that is and has been shifting. I have painted many barns, and as all things, the only constant is change. I think, too, that when I was initially being compared to Wolf Kahn, that was an impetus to make sure my approach and his are very different. It is true that the subject and sometimes colors are similar, but that is really the extend of it. In fact I break many of his rules in favor of my own style. Also, I am compelled to express myself in many ways as opposed to being put in a box or labelled as a barn painter. It is very important to me that my work comes from an authentic desire to paint. At times, this can be difficult because I often run out of barn paintings as they sell, and people are asking for more before I have found my next subject.
I simply hope that people can understand that in time, I will create more barns but that I cannot produce en masse. If I naturally come across a barn that inspires me or if someone sends a photo to me which excites me, then it feels like a gift. There is a great feeling and readiness to create a painting. A genuine thrill at the prospect of it. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I was driving in upstate NY near Lake Ontario, and I must have taken photos of 20 barns. There was a high that came with discovering so many incredible new places to paint. I should mention that since my start with barns, I have shifted to being a studio painter as opposed to working en plein air. Sometimes there will be a barn that I get obsessed with for one reason or another. I may paint many versions of one place, and in time, the paintings will evolve and look very different from each other. That is where memory comes in. I am sometimes remembering a previous painting at that time, more so than the original place. It becomes about arranging color and light and lines....more about the surface than about capturing a real place.
Q: The evolution of you as an artist began with a focus on realistic figures, like portraits and landscapes, and has since shifted. Tell us about the inspiration you get from the abstract world and how it influences your work.
Suzanne Crocker: Probably my evolution as an artist began as soon as I used finger paint. For as long as I can recall, creating art has been a sure way to find joy. But I think that you are referring to my professional evolution, and you are right that I was painting and selling landscapes and portraits before the barns. And, I still do paint equestrian paintings at times, which I love and which require a different approach than my barns or abstract paintings. Regarding the abstract work, well, that is where I will grow the most. I think the highest form of art is non-objective because it requires complete invention on the part of the artist. There is no external object to rely on but rather it becomes about making the intangible tangible. It is like music. It is free painting. Process painting without any end result in mind. Rather each color and line or mark or drip comes as a reaction to what came before. It is progressive and exciting to watch a blank canvas come to be a finished work. When I paint an abstract painting, it is like a dance. I have music playing, usually very loud music, and the bigger the painting, the better because my gestures can be larger and I can move my whole body as I paint. I get lost in it in such a good way. Thoughts come and go at times, as I may be thinking of conveying certain energy and relationships of things on the canvas, but mostly it is instinctual.
As for influences that have inspired my abstract work, Jackson Pollock is my absolute favorite because he just poured himself out onto the canvas with pure abandon. I also love Rothko and Kandinsky as well. Rothko for the large areas of color and space to breathe set against tighter color along the edges. Kandinsky for his spiritual energy and color. Diebenkorn is another favorite for his use of color and also the way he makes use of large vs small areas of color and line.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what you go through as an artist when painting an abstract work, compared to something tangible like a barn or house?
Suzanne Crocker: The difference in painting a barn or a house is that there is some sense of the end result before I begin as opposed to the abstracts which are more innocent and unpredictable. For the barns, I loosely draw a building onto a canvas that has been painted entirely with cadmium red. I know that there will be hints of red coming through in the end. I know the painting will be of whatever building I have sketched. What I don’t know in the beginning however is how the painting will evolve with color or brush marks or ragging on/ragging off marks and line, etc. I also change architectural elements as I go along, adding windows, taking off parts of the barn which only complicate it, etc. I try to get at the essence of a place. All of these things evolve as I go along. I may change the color of the sky several times before I settle on it, for example. In fact, I like to change colors as I go along because it builds up an interesting history of color beneath. Of course there is also the emotion that I am putting into the barn paintings which comes from imagining how the barn is experiencing the feeling of the sunlight and the surroundings. I put myself into the place as I paint a place; in an abstract the painting is more about the surface but also too, I sometimes feel as if I am painting energy, if that makes sense. Whether microscopic or macroscopic, I’m giving a visual to that which normally goes unseen. That goes back to the universal connection that I referred to earlier.
Q: Your work has been sold throughout the world, from the United States and South America to Europe and Australia. When you sit down to paint, do you have a particular audience in mind or does the final product choose the viewer?
Suzanne Crocker: I like to paint for the painting’s sake. I’m not thinking about where it will go until after it is finished (unless it has been commissioned with certain expectations). What happens most often is that I paint purely from my own gut, and then when the finished work resonates with somebody so much so that they want to take it home, that is a great feeling. It’s very satisfying to get feedback from people who are enjoying my paintings in their own environments. That is a bonus, as the painting was not only a pleasure to make, but now it can keep on adding to others’ lives as well.
Q: You have studied in Philadelphia and throughout the New England Corridor in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont; very different areas considering personality and style. Has each location made its own unique impact on you and your work? How so?
Suzanne Crocker: Probably all of these places add up to bring me to where I am today, but it is hard to break it down in parts. I think more in terms of those whom I studied with than of the location. I suppose when in Philadelphia, I was doing mostly color studies and nudes inside the studio, but I was doing more drawing and photography than painting when I went walking out into the city. In VT, MA and NH, in wide open areas of unspoiled nature, I was more inspired to set up an easel to paint the outdoors. And now as a studio painter, I am enjoying a big indoor area where my canvases can be large and where I have room to move about with ease. There is a real open feeling physically which allows for freedom in painting.
Q: You have a new studio in Ipswich, MA and from the images on your website, the place looks beautiful. Are you planning any gallery events in the near future?
Suzanne Crocker: I’ve been so blessed to find a new studio with its wonderful light and windows overlooking a flowing river. The space is primarily my creative studio more so than a gallery, although there is an area in the front where I can hang my paintings on display. When I go to the studio, it is mostly to paint unless someone has requested a visit. Sometimes if I have an extra hour or so, I may go there just to sit and read art magazines or listen to music and just be in the space, and when I do that, I may leave the door open for people to come have a look around. Also, this week I have been hosting elementary school children who are coming to me as a field trip with their art teachers. Generally though, I keep the doors locked while I am there so that I can focus on doing my creative work. At this time, I don’t have any plans for an event. People have been asking me to have a party there, so at some point that will likely happen but maybe I will have just a few people at a time. I’m not sure yet how that will unfold.
For now I’m very busy painting as I would love to have new work to send off to Elizabeth for the Eisenhauer Gallery. I’m grateful for Elizabeth’s understanding of my need to push myself artistically into abstract expressionism. (I have been painting abstracts for many years alongside my barn series but the abstracts have not been highlighted on the Vineyard.) We know the barns have a solid following and have sold very well on the island and elsewhere, and so we are continuing to exhibit barn paintings while also sharing my abstract works. There are many collectors who understand the sophistication of abstract work while others are more comfortable buying something that ties to a recognizable thing. It is a matter of personal preference. My abstract paintings have been on exhibit for years in many states from San Francisco to Naples (FL) to Atlanta to Chicago and Boston, etc, but bringing them onto the Vineyard this year has been a new thing. I thank Elizabeth for taking this ride with me.