Birmingham News (AL)
ELMA BELL News staff writer
Susan Oliver didn’t start out to build a shrine to herself in her Forest Park apartment.
But because her apartment also houses her studio, which she describes as a hard-core workroom with no display space, her paintings set the tone for her bold, colorful home.
The studio ”is the only space here that is off-limit to visitors. It’s unreal,” she says. ”The rest of the place is sort of wild, but I love junk. I go to flea markets and get junky things, and alter or transform them (with her paint brush, of course) into something fun.”
Her large paintings are fun, too, but are serious works of art that sell for ”more than enough to pay the bills.” They hang in corporate and private collections in Europe and throughout this country, and are shown at the Toad Hall Gallery in New York City.
The paintings on her walls more or less tell the story of her life as she became an artist. She began painting in earnest while living in Europe. A painting of a pair of gondolas floating in a shimmering canal almost fills the wall above the sofa in her living room.
”I painted it when I lived in Venice,” she says. ”I loved Venice. It’s unique, almost magical . . . the light Oliver, Page 2G Page 1G on the water, the striped poles marking the gondolas’ places. I named this Double Parked.”
A self-portrait hangs on a facing wall.
”I did it to see if I could do portraits, and found out I could,” she says.
She doesn’t do portraits of other people.
”I don’t mind my face being green or red or whatever, but other people do care what color their face turns out to be,” she says. ”If I paint a portrait, it’s my interpretation of the spirit and character of the subject. I have the greatest respect for artists who do portraits people like. I’m not one.”
Some paintings from Oliver’s cow series hang on the walls of her living and dining rooms. The cows are black and white, but nothing in the exotic pasture is the color it’s supposed to be. If that is a buzzard in that funny-looking tree, it’s the strangest looking buzzard any cow ever saw. If it’s a parrot, what’s it doing in a pasture?
”A woman in New York City requested six 6-by-4 foot paintings of cows – I guess because they don’t have any cows up there. They turned out to be fun to do, so I did a series of them,” Oliver said.
Her paintings of flowers all but leap from the canvas.
Commissions for her flower paintings come from about as many men as women, she says. She believes that’s because her flower series is universally appealing because of the strong colors and strokes she uses.
But don’t think for a moment that you can commission her to paint exactly the flowers you have in mind.
”You can tell me loosely,” she says. ”I have a certain style, which is what I assume people are commissioning me to do.”
After attending Agnes Scott College in Atlanta and Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans, Oliver was off to Florida State University in Florence, Italy.
”I fell in love with the architecture in Florence,” she says. ”And, the lifestyle in Europe – the strolling, sitting in cafes, people watching – everything was exhilirating. I just stayed.”
She sampled life in France, Austria and Italy. In Vienna, she began to think of painting as a career. ”At the time I did the gondola painting in Venice, I thought I wanted to be an actress,” she says.
Exposure to the professors of the Hundertwasser class of the Vienna Academy of Painting changed her mind for good. She attributes the bold usage of color in her paintings to the influence of the German expressionists.
Her work was exhibited at The Gallery Synthese and with The Bawag Foundation for the Arts during the Festival of Arts in Vienna. She designed the wine label for the Viennese winery of Kracher Wines in Austria and says she is proudest of having designed the official City Stages posters for 1995 and 1997.
She also is proud of the work of one of artists she’s coached, Emmauel Cheraskin, a doctor who started painting in his early 80s. Two of his paintings hang in her home.
”I say coached instead of taught because I don’t think you can teach creativity. The best you can do is help set a person’s talent free,” she says.
Illustration: NEWS STAFF PHOTO/PHILIP BARRDubbed ”Double
Parked,” these gondolas were some of Susan Oliver’s earliest work.
She painted them while she was living in Venice, a city she calls
”almost magical.” NEWS STAFF PHOTOS/PHILIP BARRABOVE: Susan
Oliver’s self-portrait hangs on one wall of her Forest Park apartment
living room. She doesn’t do portraits of other people because she says
they don’t want green or red faces. AT LEFT: Oliver says she knows
cows because she grew up in Cullman. This painting, one of a series
she did, hangs in her dining room. Susan Oliver says she knows cows
because she grew up in Cullman. This painting, one of a series she
did, hangs in her dining room.