Suzy Birstein - Featured Artist of the Month May 2010

Which artistic media do you prefer to work in and why?

I fell in love with creating colourful hand built ceramics, as art pottery and figurative sculptures,early in my career.  My life size figurative “Muses” are inspiring me to create paintings: oil on canvas, multi- media on wood and monotypes.

I also love performance, film and dance.  I have worked collaboratively with an extraordinary choreographer, musician, photographer and film maker to create a film of me tap dancing amidst my Muses. I look forward to more of this!

With which past or contemporary artists or artworks do you feel a connection? What is it that draws you to them?

So many. As Guido, the Fellini character, sang in “NINE”: “I want to be everywhere, all at once”. Ancient and contemporary folkloric cultures from India, SE Asia, Africa, Mexico. Picasso’s portraits of his wives and lovers: colour, pattern, composition, emotion and his explosive energy in all media! Modigliani’s sculpted heads and accompanying paintings: their evocative majesty. Rousseau’s “Lion,Gypsy and Mandolin”:  the mystery and reverie. Chagall’s paintings and ceramics: mythical magical imagery and colour.

The art life and costume of Frida Kahlo and her tragically short life; the art and life of ceramist Beatrice Wood, who wore saris, incredible jewelry and created til she was 104 years young!

What process of technique in art-making interest you?

In ceramics, working large and incorporating found and transformed objects. Combining many fired and unfired surfacing techniques: under glazes, crystalline glazes, lustres with acrylics, iridescence and patinas. In painting, creating large oil paintings inspired by my sculptures. Also, installations incorporating sculpture, painting and dance.

What technical challenges to you face in the process of making art?

Creating large ceramics sculptures in a relatively small space that also serves as a teaching studio is challenging.  My kiln is not tall, so pieces must be made separately and then stacked: that is challenging. At the same time, I’m grateful for these challenges.

What in your artistic training do you value most at this time?

I was always encouraged to follow my muse and be true to myself. I was also mentally and emotionally trained to transform “mistakes into happy accidents”. Both have been life long lessons which I’ve been able to pass on to my family and students. It is a joy to watch them blossom.

How much of a role do accident and control play in your work?

I experience a significant interplay between the two. I definitely know when I am planning to sculpt or paint a figure or vessel, but in the process I am very open to that other energy that comes from being in the moment with material and heart. This may occur as an accident –something blowing up can lead to something wonderfully unexpected, like introducing mosaics and found objects. The balance of accident and control is something that keeps me “awake”, be it with creating my art or creating my life.

What are some of your artistic challenges at present?

As I said, “I want to be everywhere, all at once….”

My biggest challenges are juggling time and money to experience all the things I love to do and want to create, as traveler, ceramist, painter, dancer, teacher, and lover of family and friends.

Simultaneously, I am grateful for my seemingly boundless energy, good health and nurturing relationships.

What are some of your artistic accomplishments at present?

Many one person and group exhibits, media attention, publications, locally and internationally.. Being the only artist asked to create art for 2008 Academy Awards gift baskets. Being invited to teach and create “Mia Muse” 2009 and “Mytho Muse” 2010 ceramics workshops on Skopelos, the gorgeous Greek island where “Mamma Mia” was filmed! (Sept. 10 -25). My D’Lovely” tap dance film/collaboration. Co-Creation of our beautiful (inside and out) sons, Julian and Sami.

Can you share three things you’ve learned as an artist through your own art?

Follow your Muse – heart, intuition and inner voice.

Actively share this with others of all ages.

Apply this to all aspects of life.

When you need inspiration, how to do you get it?

I spend the first hour of my day reading, looking at art books and writing. When I’m stuck and not finding inspiration through working, I go to my favourite vintage clothing stores and play dressup. Then I go home and tap dance to my favourite music, followed by sharing a glass of wine and watching an old Hollywood musical with my sweet husband.

When you need to learn more as an artist, how do you do it?

I take workshops from artists I admire, do research through books, travel, go to inspiring exhibits, talk with other artists and close friends who know my work intimately.

What is exciting on your artistic horizon?

“Paintings Portray Sculptures” solo exhibit in May at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, Sanctuary – 949 W. 49th. Returning to Skopelos, Greece for “Mytho Muse” ceramics workshop, Sept. 10 -25th, followed this October by a Creativity workshop on Hydra/Santorini Greek islands with fellow Artist in our Midst, Ariann Mangas!

What is it about this artwork that led you to choose it for this feature? What specific challenges did you face in making this artwork?

I have selected “Beauty/Bountiful”, my latest oil painting. This is a portrait of one of my favourite “Duet” sculptures which I have been surfacing, in stages, the last two years. The challenge with the sculpture is that she is almost perfect left as white clay, and yet seems incomplete to me, without colour. With this 5 ft. tall oil painting, I feel I have finally captured in colour her bountiful beautiful spirit.