EK Interview: Suzannah Sinclair

art blog - Suzannah Sinclair - Empty Kingdom

Suzannah Sinclair’s work has been featured on Empty Kingdom for a reason, it’s awesome.  Her watercolor is vibrant and lifelike, I could stare at it for hours.  I want to be teleported to her studio so I can.

Please introduce yourself.

I’m a painter in my early thirties. In the last year and change, I have relocated from Brooklyn, NY (before that, Boston, MA) to rural central Maine. My husband works for the state as a Fisheries Biologist in this region; we have a four-month-old baby girl and a dog, both of which accompany me to my studio most days. I primarily work in watercolor on both birch panels and paper.  I enjoy ‘staging’ my paintings with interior design elements to orchestrate the experience of the viewer. I like to think of myself as a feminist watercolorist, which may sound trite but true.

art blog - Suzannah Sinclair - Empty Kingdom

How does your BFA in Printmaking translate to the work you’re doing now with watercolor and pencil?  What precipitated you choosing watercolor and pencil as your media of choice?  What about watercolor and pencil do you enjoy so much?

I gravitated to Printmaking at Mass Art because it was all encompassing and I enjoyed learning the processes. It was a way to combine and explore: drawing, painting, photo, sculpture and more. Even though I mostly paint now, I definitively paint like a printmaker, and by that I mean I think in layers and my paintings are the execution of an idea. Watercolor was something I learned as a teenager, taking after school lessons with a local artist where I grew up in New Jersey. Watercolor is the language of color and painting that is imbued in me, that of transparency. I enjoy the permanence of each action of wash or brushstroke and I like to stick to a small traditional palette and I love the challenge of mixing colors that I see in the world, real and imagined, from the fewest pigments. The physical act of painting everyday is mediation.

It seems that all of your work focuses on women, why is this?  What about the female form do you find most intriguing?

My work is based on mirroring and transference, finding things in the world that already exist and projecting my personal experiences and emotions on to them. Reinterpreting that experience as a painting for others to then do the same. Being a woman, it’s what I know and what I am drawn to. The intangible thoughts and feelings behind a look on a face, a gaze, or a gesture of a body and drawing it out and highlighting it is at the center of my practice. At the same time, taking ownership of painting the female nude as a woman when throughout history that subject and being a painter was (and still sometimes is) considered a man’s role.

art blog - Suzannah Sinclair - Empty Kingdom

What character do you wish to imbue your work with by painting on wood?  In much of your work the grain comes through, how do you decide what kind of wood, grain and degree of penetrance to use when doing a piece?

I was originally drawn to working on wood for a two-fold reason: I liked the heft and physicality that the wood panel gave my watercolor that might otherwise be seen more as a ‘drawing’ on paper. Second, I enjoy the color and pattern of the wood grain as my blank slate, I like that it becomes the skin tone and shadows and is something I work with and around.

How has your approach to art changed this year?  What was different than 2011?  What do you think you’ve done better?  Where can you still improve?

I feel like this year I am finally getting to my ‘to do’ list. I don’t know if it’s being so secluded in the woods of Maine or the lull between shows that has given me the freedom to do projects that I never took the time to focus on. Projects like a portrait project and smaller works on paper for instance. Actually, works on paper in general. Taking a break from panel painting. I have been working on still lives from source material that have been piling up in folders over the years. As for improvement, I am interested in learning egg tempera painting and have some ideas for ceramics and object making to interact with my paintings.

art blog - Suzannah Sinclair - Empty Kingdom

What was your least favorite subject in school?  What was your most favorite?

In high school, oddly enough, my least favorite subject was art, for a couple reasons. I was harassed by a bully in art class so I dropped it and took computer programming instead (nerd alert!), I think the next year I took Anatomy and Physiology as my elective. When I did later take art, it was awful, basically a study hall with no supplies and no creative projects. I believe I stated this to the teacher and may have made her cry. In the same vein, in college I took a watercolor class that was a waste, the Professor took naps during class and when I told her I was a printmaking major, she said it was toxic and would make me sick. Favorite… in high school, science especially anything Biology based. Little known fact, originally before I decided to apply to art schools. I applied to Liberal Arts schools for Forestry. In college, I loved all of my printmaking studio classes; we were a small but tight bunch and pushed each other.

As an artist, how do you think your view of formal education is different than that of say a scientist or accountant?  What do you think of our education system?  How do you think it could be changed to be better?

I think these days, no matter what your concentration in higher learning is, there is no guaranteed job waiting for you when you leave. Sometimes I think my fine arts education made me realize that sooner than someone with science or business degree. I always knew it was going to be a challenge and also accepted that making money and having a successful career don’t have to be codependent. The art world has the same collegiate nepotism that other careers have. Now that I have a daughter and have started saving for college for her and keeping up on the local Board of Education goings on, I think of education totally differently. I think there needs to be a ‘real world’ emphasis in learning hand in hand with book smarts.

art blog - Suzannah Sinclair - Empty Kingdom

Which of all your Solo exhibitions was your favorite?  What made it so good?  What was the most challenging and what did you learn that you wouldn’t have without the difficulty that you faced?

Ah! I don’t want to pick just one. Each has meant something different for me and my body of work, showing is growing. ‘Good’ is when I get to travel to a great place, meet new people and share my work. ‘Bad’ is when I didn’t listen to that voice in the back of my head that said ‘Don’t do this show, something isn’t right’ and then being right.

Are you the ‘find a song you love and listen to ten times in a row’ type person?

Ha! Yes… yes I am. Back in Brooklyn I had an awesome studio mate and we liked similar music but I would always listen to music on headphones because I never wanted to drive him crazy with my repeating and what exactly was repeated is sometimes embarrassing.

art blog - Suzannah Sinclair - Empty Kingdom

Coffee or tea or neither?

Coffee in the morning, tea before bed.