Susan Lenz Interview: My true calling

Susan Lenz Interview: My true calling

Using vintage and recycled materials, fiber artist Susan Lenz works with meticulous handwork to ‘articulate the accumulated memory inherent in discarded things’.

In Part 2 of our interview with Susan she discusses the evolution of her work and answers some quick fire questions about her life as a fiber artist. Read Part 1 of this interview ‘A Partnership with my materials’.
Textile art by Susan Lenz

Susan Lenz – The Teachings

Concept was to be my guiding force

Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?

There are so many… but I’ll be different. I’m rather confident that not many fiber artists have a performance art piece done in collaboration with other artists to their credit. I do! The piece is called Ophelia. Why do I have fond memories about this piece? Well, it was inspired by a combination of wonderful times in England watching my son dance and seeking out Pre-Raphealite masterpieces but also by the artificial flowers themselves. I have giant bags of these blossoms, all collected from cemetery dumpsters. They’ve been used in various exhibitions called Last Words, a solo show featuring my Grave Rubbing Art Quilts and related work and also in the creation of unique garments. My Leaf Dress is made entirely from artificial greenery from cemetery dumpsters. It was made on a water soluble stabilizer and been in lots of juried shows, winning the top recycling award in the International Wearable Arts competition in Port Moody, British Columbia. While making things with this unique, recycled fabric, I kept picturing a modern tableaux – Ophelia drowning in these flowers. To actually create this installation was an amazing experience! For me, the entire thing was just another fascinating way to use fibers for art.

You can view a time lapse of the work here.

Preparation for Ophelia

Dress Rehearsal

Textile art by Susan Lenz

Susan Lenz – Stained Glass XXII (detail)

How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?

When I first declared that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, I was 42. Without any academic training or solid background, this was a risky move especially since most of my first pieces can easily be described as “pretty pictures”. It took about three years for me to develop my own style… which actually happened quite easily once I figured out that CONCEPT was to be my guiding force! Once I latched onto a sense of time, memory, mortality, and personal legacy (concepts that are most meaningful and mysterious to me) everything fell into place. I hope my future development find me creating even more powerful and evocative work on a larger scale.

Textile art by Susan Lenz

Susan Lenz – At Rest

Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?

I do give talks and trunk shows when contacted. I’ve never quite figured out how to do this more efficiently but welcome any inquiry. I have taught workshops at Saluda Shoals Park, The Columbia Museum of Art, Landers Univeristy, The Studios of Key West in Florida, and the Society for Contemporary Crafts in Pittsburgh, PA. Again, I have never quite figured out how to list this on my website but welcome any inquire. I am scheduled to teach for Focus on Fibers 2014 at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida.

Textile art by Susan Lenz

Susan Lenz – Nail Triptych

Gallery representation

How do you go about choosing where to show your work?

When looking for gallery representation, I seek a business with at least a five year history selling fine art crafts, accepting all major credit cards, with a strong web presence, and offering a contract the details the mutual relationship I hope will profit us both! It is important that the gallery have a look that compliments my work and vice versa. It is important to have a good rapport with the gallery’s sales staff as well as the person responsible for accounts payable.

When looking for juried exhibitions to which to apply, I seek a professionally written prospectus that clearly states a calendar of events, has a respectable prize fund, lists well respected jurors, and has a venue that insures the work. Added bonuses are events that include a catalog or are in accredited museums. (I have and regularly still do apply to shows that don’t quite have all these things going for them! LOL!) When being asked to participate in an invitational exhibition, I’m usually too flattered to say no to anything, but I really prefer places that insure the work and pay at least the return shipping expenses.

Textile art by Susan Lenz

Susan Lenz – Only Child

Where can readers see your work this year ?

You’ve got to be kidding? I’ve got a solo show in Vision Gallery in Chandler, Arizona; a piece in Quilt National; a piece in Studio Art Quilt Associates‘ traveling shows Metaphors on Aging, Text Messages, and Radical Elements  as well as their charity auction and their latest book of professional artist members, Portfolio 19; an installation at 701 Center for the Arts summer exhibit and in the upcoming state-wide biennial; and I’ll be selling at the Washington Craft Show and Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show in November. I have a solo show at the Tapps Art Center also in November – I have work schedules in a bunch of juried shows. I try to keep the listing on my blog and website up to date.

Textile art by Susan Lenz

Susan Lenz – Spool Cradle

Symbolic qualities

Why are you an artist?

It is my true calling.

Did your family nurture your creativity?

As a child … not really but they didn’t hinder it either. As an adult, my family is most supportive!

What inspires you?

Anything neglected and with rather obvious symbolic qualities: Keys, clocks, nails, anything old and vintage.

Textile art by Susan Lenz

Susan Lenz – Time Revolving

Do you ever suffer from Artists’ block?

Never. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way keeps me focused. At this point, can’t you tell I have no problem writing! LOL! I write “Artist’s Way Morning Pages” daily… okay, I cheat… I type them on a laptop dedicated to this singular activity.

Do you use a sketchbook?

No (I have in the past, one was even in a national juried show at Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, but this isn’t my natural way of working).

Do you work in silence or with music?

Silence – I’m also slowly going deaf so I’d better get used to it!

What are your other interests besides art?

I love watching ballet. I buy and sell antiquarian prints.

Textile art by Susan Lenz

Susan Lenz – Held Together By a Thread

Collaboration is a two-way street

Who would you love to collaborate with (living or dead)?

Likely anyone with similar energy, interests, and a desire to collaborate with me! Collaboration is a two-way street. It won’t be enough for me to want to work with someone else.

What is the best decision you have ever made?

Taking the plunge of forcibly down-sizing a very lucrative custom picture framing business (and my family’s sole source of income) for the hair brained idea that I could be an artist.

Textile art by Susan Lenz

Susan Lenz – Time Signatures

What is your favourite place to get away from it all?

I sleep eight hours a night for this! LOL!

What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?

WORK! It is all in the work. Keep an inventory book listing every finished piece with dimensions, date, price, and a list of materials and techniques. Keep an organized notebook of all art opportunities, deadlines, commitments, correspondence, and business dealings. Document your work.

Textile art by Susan Lenz

Susan Lenz – Wasted Words Global Warnings

For more information about Susan Lenz please visit: susanlenz.com
or keep up to date with her blog: artbysusanlenz.co.uk

FREE E-BOOK: How my journey into textile art began, a fascinating insight into the work of textile artist Sue Stone
Wednesday 26th, April 2017 / 10:15
Sam

About the author

Sam is the co-founder of TextileArtist.org and son of textile artist Sue Stone. Connect with Sam on Google+c/a>

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8 Comments on “Susan Lenz Interview: My true calling

  • “Only Child” made me cry. I’ve been wondering why I’m so tired, and your post is the second sign today that the problem is a lack of emotional attachment to the concept of my recent work. I think it’s time to “write some pages” and reconnect to my artistic soul wellspring. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Susan is my oldest sister, there are four girls in my family. I don’t know if we, our family ‘nurtured’ her creativity, but we always reaped the benefits of it. Our wonderful parents took us traveling all over the world. I went on my first African safari when I was 9 years old. Throughout our journeys, we certainly learned how to pack a suitcase, and we were always each responsible for packing our own carry-on bags…and there was always one with paper dolls. Paper dolls were flat, took up little space, were light if not practically weightless, easy to get out and play with, and quickly folded-up and could be tucked away in seconds. Paper dolls were the perfect time occupier during boring delays in airports, on long international flights (back in the ’70s getting from Pittsburgh to Salzburg, Austria took a while!) and if they were lost, got wet, or forgotten…well, Susan would just make us more (although I can’t imagine we ever lost even one!). She created a Russian family (I remember the main character’s name was Ivan) and characters from the book “Harriet the Spy”… all of our paper dolls were from Susan’s imagination or from books she read. Then she would suggest an event, like Harriet would have a birthday party…so all the paper dolls would need new party outfits…which, of course, Susan would design and make. My other sisters and I would play paper dolls, Susan would play “the Tailor”…and we would have our dolls go to the Tailor’s for fittings! This just how it was for us, I never really thought about it, we loved playing paper dolls and played paper dolls for hours upon hours…. but now when I think about it, Susan was just a teenager at the time, those paper dolls were beautiful, their clothes were amazing and they had outfits for every possible occasion (including swim suits)….and Susan was just keeping her younger sisters busy (pacified, entertained and quiet) with her amazing talents.

    Reply
    • Sam

      Thanks for the wonderful stories Sonya – it’s always fascinating to hear more about an artists background, especially when it’s something as personal as this. You must be very proud of your sister, she’s such an inspiring artist. Do you still have any of the paper dolls?

      Reply
  • Well, since we are being personal and honest, I too am a younger sister of Susan. We are almost exactly two years apart. When my mother returned from the hospital after giving birth to me, it was Susan’s 2nd birthday. Mom told Susan that I was her birthday present. And she, in turn, told me that I belonged to her. I believed it until I was, oh, probably 8 or 9. Her creativity was always alive and well though not always encouraged. For example, she was (and still is) a wonderful story-teller. She would tell me stories that were so exciting and awesome that I would cry when they were over. To avoid getting in trouble because I was crying, she’d tell me that I could, for example, become a dragon like the one who died in the story. All I’d need to do is drink hot steaming water or bite all the soap in the house or what have you. So, yes, there were times that her creativity caused a bit of a ruckus. But mostly, she was simply awesome. Yes, it’s true, we played with paper dolls into our young teenaged years. And yes, it was wonderful because Susan’s creativity never stopped. As an adult, she lead me to my own creative side and still is the person I turn to when I get stuck, need help or advise or want an opinion. Susan and I do very different kinds of things (we’re very different types of people) and yet, I attribute all that I do creatively to her.

    Reply
    • Joe

      Hi Wanda – it’s wonderful that you are so supportive of each other. I love the insights into your early years. Thanks so much for sharing the stories. All the best,

      Joe

      Reply
  • I recently purchased one of Susan’s pieces. My house is filled with the art of others, as well as my own. I live in an art gallery posing as a home! I have been using recycled components in my own work for 39 years and therefore gravitate to others who do the same, especially when they do it in different ways from me. Her work resonates historically, appeals to my need for the fiber-y tactile, and the muted palette soothes me as I pass her piece every time I walk up and down the stairs (it is in a niche on my stairwell). So glad to see her profiled!

    Reply

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