Verona, NJ, artist Susanna Baker gets her inspiration from the world – and especially the weird things her kids do. Here, she talks about how much fun she had working on the Chairs of Inclusion project and why the circle theme was so important to her work.
- What is your education and background as an artist?
I have a BFA in painting from Rhode Island School of Design. About 10 years ago, I became a full-time artist after putting it on the back burner for a long time.
- What inspires you?
My children and their weird habits actually provide a lot of inspiration. I am of course also inspired by the world around us.
- How would you describe your artistic style and your process?
My imagery is based on the push and pull of what we see and what we don't see – an opaque blue sky that hides an infinite universe of objects, a drop of blood that is filled with microscopic cells. I try to express the idea that we only see one version of reality – that there are many ways of seeing. For me, art is about process more than product. I start each piece with no plan and no expectation. I explore relationships and placement, shapes and lines and am continually excited by the beauty of composition and the richness of color.
- What initially inspired your Chair concept?
After talking with Monica about the project, I started thinking about community and the circle as a symbol. I decided to use more than one chair and a circle theme. Although it seemed very literal, I thought it provided a very open place to start from. I use a lot of layers and materials in my work, so I also wanted to incorporate those things in my chair.
- What was your experience working at the Wae Center on your Chair?
I went into this project not really knowing what to expect. I was surprised at how much fun I had, and how deep some of the conversations were. I really didn’t have to give much direction; the artists I worked with were motivated and focused on doing the project. As we spent time together painting, people opened up. It ended up being a really productive and enjoyable time for me – it went by extremely quickly!
- Did your Chair concept change or evolve as you worked with the Center’s artists?
Definitely. I initially had some very directed ideas and was planning on assigning tasks, having people do self portraits, etc. Once I spoke with the artists at the Center, I decided that the work would be much more exciting if they painted things that they wanted to paint. I gave them choices as to colors and surfaces, told them about my circle theme and let them enjoy the process. We actually sat in a circle while we painted, talked a lot and I think produced really great work. After all the pieces were painted, I took them home and used resin to layer the works on paper to use as the backs of the chairs. I was then able to put the chairs together. Each small chair incorporated work from at least three separate artists.
- What does Inclusion mean to you?
I love that expression, a seat at the table. I think it means listening and acceptance. Coming in with an open mind, no judgments, so that you can recognize that differences are valuable. The Wae Center is a wonderful place – it really makes you stop and think about what is important and how everyone doesn’t need to be the same.
- What do you do when you’re not creating art?
I am the office director for Studio Montclair, Inc. a non-profit 501c3 organization of exhibiting professional and emerging artists and others interested in the visual arts. I am also a single parent of a 9-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son.
- How do you relax?
Lately I watch Orange is the New Black after everyone goes to sleep.
- What are some of the recent projects you’ve worked on (other than Chairs)?
I have a few pieces in the NEXUS exhibit at the NJ Arts Guild. In November, I am having a two-person show, with encaustic artist Karen Nielsen-Fried, at the Cottage Place Gallery in Ridgewood, NJ.