Suzanne Scott makes a hell of an impression! There is unveiling poetry to her paintings, a song in the silence.
Admittedly, it is times like these; I love to be able to apprise things that are not obvious right away. She has been able to execute with finesse and kindness accurate, deeply personal, colorful depictions of one’s thoughts, experiences, and physical attributes in a portrait, unlike many of us have ever experienced.
Suzanne has kind eyes, a beautiful smile, and an empathetic, intuitive wisdom. The world in her paintings are an adaptation, reflecting someone else’s curves, edges, scars, and bumps, depicted in varicolored fluidity.
Although it is a very accurate portrait, “It looks just like me,” is not something you may hear from her subjects, and most times, one would probably not be able to pick their own out in a line-up.
She names her works by something she has heard said or experienced by the subject. Her work is a happy balance of the dichotomy she has had in finding her path of wanting to be representational and, at the very same time, abstract artist.
What we see is her impression of her subject and their lives. Everyone’s very own secret logo— our fingerprint.
Upon realization, you are admiring a hand-painted thumbprint, makes one immediately appreciate Suzanne’s technical skills, as the smallest of ridges become magnified as vast spheres, creating a colorful vocabulary she feels is representational of one’s life (up until now.) Within the canvas, she offers a voice to something that most times goes virtually unnoticed. It is a different communication revealing a celebration of life, as her imagination turns everything ever touched by the subject into visual poetry.
Since speaking to Suzanne, the notion of how these unique markings most of us possess, leave a mark behind wherever we go, indicate every chapter of our inner life. We do have our whole World and story in our hands, as our endless adventures shape our fingerprints as we go. The more we use our hands, the deeper our fingerprints become.
Suzanne will sit with and talk with the person she will paint for hours. Learning about their lives, important experiences and nuances.Then the subject gives her their thumbprints. She uses opposable thumbprints. Here is where the physical impression is given. Suzanne gives them an intentional autonomy as to how they leave the print. She notes that everyone’s personality is different when leaving her a fingerprint, and she feels, after observing many people, how they apply the print is often very much indicative of their personality. It could be quick and stamp like, or a slow steam roller, intentionally precise or sloppy. Each work is deeply personal, and often it can take some time because she begins when she has a stronghold on the person with whom she is working. Then, thoughtfully, intuitively, she will begin to paint as she sees the entire story in color, complete.
Beginning the portrait always in the upper left-hand corner of the canvas, some are bright; some are dark, there are voids of color, for there may be something in the dialogue left for growth, or yet to be had experiences. She also points out that at different times in one’s life, their portrait, although having an almost identical similar subject matter physically, could look and feel quite different depending on things that may happen to them over time, as we are all a work in progress.
When I first saw Suzann’s works, they appeared to be beautiful, softly drawn ethereal abstracts, reminiscent of a shell, or cosmos. Then, after one of her friends told me what they were, I realized there was a profound anatomical connection throughout her work. Her canvases flow from the beautiful golden ratio of nature, and our eyes see a portrait with an element of soul. It is really, very divine.
I sat with her on a perfect afternoon by the beach. We spent the afternoon together and she told me about her work and how it all began.
How do you pick the colors?
SS- “Personality. It is all the person and their personality. My background is very much biomedical because growing up, I loved forensics and wanted to be a forensic pathologist.
When I was in high school, I went to University to go to Governor’s school. I did that for the arts, and that changed everything for me. Back in the late ’80s and ’90s, not everyone went to school for art. We had a rebellious mentality. I went to Maryland Institute College of Art, took a year off, then re-registered at Mason Gross at Rutgers.”
“I was conflicted because I saw some of my friends’ edge go away after studying art; it was looking all the same. So I wanted to learn technical ability when I felt I had a voice. I spent two years on the back of a motorcycle around America, from 23-25 years old. It formed a lot of my vocabulary, the interactions with people and just how important human contact is. It slowly percolated.”
“Then I studied human anatomy at the Art Student’s League for four years, and that gave me really good technical ability. I worked as a medical illustrator for an implant device company, but all the while painting minimalist abstract. I have always had this dichotomy to be really representational and detailed with perfect representation, yet abstract. I had a lot of trouble being divided that way. I needed that outlet of refinement and studied technical obsessive realistic lines. For me, that was not fulfilling.”
How did the fingerprints come to be?
SS- “I was making some paintings before that were oil on canvas, just these weird sort of biomorphic, kind of anatomical works. I was applying something I learned from Chuck (Chuck Close, her mentor) that taught me, you take the same shape, and you become a different artist every time until you find your language. What mark-making feels good to you. Simple. Give your self a set of rules, and each time you make a different kind of mark, you keep manipulating it until you find your voice. I made a ton every day, Always square. I have always been into painting squares. Proportionally, the information fills itself in beautifully.”
“Through a hard time in my life, there were very compassionate people around me, and I thought at the time, how can I be surviving without all these friends and family? And then I thought, what makes us, us? People would do very specific things that fit their personality, and my paintings already looked like fingerprints, and I started collecting fingerprints.”
What are the most exciting fingerprints you have ever seen?
SS- “One I have yet to paint. It’s a friend of mine. He is married to a friend and poet named Richard Howard. He is over 90. He won the Nobel prize for translating, The Little Prince. So it’s his husband, and he is a visual artist. His fingerprint is like nothing I have ever seen. It is symmetrical in a linear way I’ve never seen.”
Can you look at a thumbprint in a blind test and tell the gender?
SS-“That wouldn’t be fair (she laughs) because most of the time, it would be obvious based on size. Although, when someone gives me their fingerprints, their personality comes out right away, I have a friend, super uptight, really wound, and her little fingerprint was like a quick stamp, there is a lot of personality in how they roll them out. So much of them is in the application of how they provide them.”
DP- You are observing something hardly seen, it is like a nude in plain sight,
SS-“And people are very secretive about their fingerprints.”
SS- “In my work, there is also some negative space. The negative space for me is life yet to be lived. The color represents periods in their lives and experiences. It is very much a timeline, as much as I can gather, a record of them, and the fingerprint doesn’t change. I can always access that same print, years later and I can tell your story with a whole new painting, still identifiable, but a whole new painting, as we are always changing.”
Do you follow a chronological timeline?
SS- “I can figure a person out really fast, and very abstractly, it is not a timeline. All the parts come down to this one mass, and it translates perfectly for me in color. I can nail color for a person instantly. It’s a balance of them, not one color, it has to be a combination. It’s very Specific for each person.”
How long does it take you to do a painting?-
SS- “I’ll work 6 hours in the studio at night for two weeks in a row. Normally, a 54″ which is the biggest that I have done, takes about five months. Smaller ones are actually a bit more challenging. I need enough space to tell the story. I paint the whole canvas, but generally, everyone’s fingerprint has one specific point of interest. I am a translator. Before I begin, I think about them (the subject) obsessively, I am so obsessed with what are they doing, how did they feel, I get so into them. I am adopting in order to describe it. If I am on a timeline, I cannot do them unless it’s done up here (points to her head). As soon as it is done in my head, then it’s just execution.”
What do they all have in common?
SS- “Just the story. There is no logical answer to that. There isn’t really anything they have in common. I am painting my first set of twins. Completely different fingerprints.
With a fingerprint there is not gonna be any commonality, who had a wart, a cut, the interruption of information is one thing. I focus on the forensic part of the fingerprint. If there are cuts and things, I focus on that.”
Do you ever wake up and say I have to paint that person today?
SS- “Yes! Definitely!”
(This next question was asked a month before most of the world was told to stay home)
Do you ever wake up just to work?
SS- “My studio used to be in my apartment; I really kind of want to come back home. I have so little time in NY at home and to leave just to even go to a studio, I don’t want to. I want to hang out with my dog, have her right there and roll out of bed in the middle of the night, and be able to work if I want and not have to put clothes on and leave.” (That is really prophetic) Suzanne, can you say outloud you just want health and unlimited cash for all of us for life?