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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.