Interview with Suzanne Lubeck as told to Kerrie L. Kemperman
First of all, thank you so much for this opportunity to be "Somerville Artist of the Month," especially this month of May with Somerville Open Studios happening May 4 & 5. I know you work in a variety of media, would you talk a little bit about your different projects and approaches via those media?
I am a "mixed-media" artist, in that I build 3 dimensional objects using wood, wire, paper, and miscellaneous hardware pieces. I also paint using oil, encaustic (melted wax and pigment) and recently, gouache. Most recently, I'm excited to have found a way to combine the sculptural elements with the painting.
Many visitors to my studio are surprised by how much my work changes from year to year. They may arrive hoping to see more of my encaustic work on the Hills of Somerville, or big oil paintings of buoyant color fields, or the built "houses" suspended on tracks of wire, or the "contingency plans" boats. Well, this year again will be something new.
This year I've been working on a 3D "painting", in that I've made the subjects that were in recent paintings (women scurrying about, carrying rocks and chunks of melting icebergs) from felted wool and have them displayed in a tableau on the wall.
What themes or issues most often find their way into your art?
Themes in my work evolve around women who have been left out of history's telling. The explorers, thinkers, inventors, pilots, code-breakers, builders, supporters, and managers, who are the backbone, who get dinner on the table to boot, all with limited air supply (due to corsets), and all the while balancing in stylish shoes.
Also integral in my work is the tenuous nature of what I call "Terra (not so) Firma." With climate change we find both geographical shifts and migratory flows. I'm intrigued with icebergs: their color, the time contained within, their flow, their disappearance, the rocks left behind. We are all on precarious footing in ambiguous space. People too are traveling from known to unknown, having to decide what little to bring, and leaving all else behind to memory.
Please tell us about your background and how you came to Somerville.
My formative years were spent living in Spain. One powder blue Renault, two pop-tents, my parents and three siblings camped all over Europe, then on a freighter stopping at all the harbors on the Mediterranean Sea. By the time I was nine, I'd already seen over 30 countries.
My father was in the furniture business and also a hobbyist, always designing (our houses), inventing, and very detail oriented—whether painting or building models. My mother always had great contemporary style and determination. She introduced us children to classical, cultural, and nuanced beauty as well as marvelous generous people wherever we landed.
I am a very proud Somervillian, having lived here with my husband, and raising our two girls, for 23 years. I first got a studio space at Vernon Street 16 years ago, when my younger daughter entered Kindergarten.
How long have you been a member of Vernon Street Studios, and what is it like to create there?
I'm very fortunate to have a studio at Vernon Street. Vernon Street Studios is a wonderful building of sturdy beamed high ceilings, a working factory below, and around 150 inspiring, generous, knowledgeable, supportive artists. In the past 5 years or so, I'd say there is a lot more transition with new artists cycling in. There are figure drawing opportunities, critique groups, occasional art talks, but mostly we work behind closed doors. I have no windows, which allows me to enter my world and stay there oblivious to weather or time until I'm wrung tired.
I work very slowly, but steadily. The nature of an artist's work runs contrary to many otherwise reasonable, logical incentives. For an artist, the work just has to be done, no matter how long it takes. I don't get paid by the hour, the rewards are personal, the clarity of vision is an undermined process. Feeling there is not enough time is always my complaint. Was it Matisse who, after his prolific life's work, and in his 80's, said, "I think I may be just starting to understand..." Upon reflection of my own day's work, I can say: "Well, I created something that has never existed before today."
What are your favorite Somerville places/spaces?
Some of my favorite places in Somerville are the Somerville Museum (and Evelyn Battinelli, who is a treasure.) Also, Artisan Asylum, and all the possibilities there; Aeronaut (what Ben has pulled together!); Painted Burro has the best margaritas; the view from Prospect Hill is pretty amazing. Market Basket is always evolving: one cart might be full of pig knuckles, the next will now have artisanal cheeses. I look forward to the renovations for The Blessing of the Bay Boathouse on the Mystic River, though the boat rental opportunities are pretty marvelous already. Martha Friend's Smithsonian Museum (and house) are remarkable. The Fashion Show at the Armory on May 2nd is a blast.
Is there an issue facing artists in Somerville that needs greater attention?
Somerville's future definitely needs to include a storefront gallery space, some visual icon to represent Somerville (the Prospect Hill Tower has worked up to now...), and a sign upon entering Somerville should read: Welcome to Somerville, home to (census data entered here) Entrepreneurs, Inventors, Creatives, and Artists since 1872.