“Design is the most empowering and creative work imaginable. Excellence comes from
steady hard work, and constant rearrangement of priorities.”
—Jenny Scheu, artist

interview SUSAN PIEREZ

Artist Jenny Scheu.
Bounce, 2018
17 x 23 inches, watercolor, gouache and pencil on Arches
Small Windows In, 2019
23 x 17 inches
watercolor, gouache, and inks on Yupo
Delight, 2018, 28 x 20 inches
watercolor, gouache and pencil on Arches
Lakefront, 2016
14 x 10 inches, watercolor on Arches
Haystack Quilt, 2017
10 x 14 inches, watercolor and gouache on Arches
Carpet Dreams, 2016,
17 x 22 inches, watercolor and gouache
Sari Silks, 2017
17 x 21 inches watercolor, gouache and pencil on Arches
Fog, 2018
17 x 22 inches, watercolor, gouache and pencil on Arches
Summer Wind, 2016
15 x 22 inches, monoprint with Akua inks
Albers’ Screen, 2019, 13 x 9 inches
watercolor, gouache and inks on Arches

Tell us a little about yourself and when you began your painting career.

I have always done some art making. I love watching light and color in the landscape. Flying in a small airplane with my dad was formative. It provided an interesting perspective and an intimate connection to changing weather. The plan view of earth from above was as much of a draw to architecture as my early construction work in urban neighborhoods. I love book, type and textile design. When I was younger, I could happily spend a full day at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. On each visit I greeted a big Sam Francis canvas in the stairwell there as if it was my favorite uncle.

Any words of wisdom from your early career that have stayed
with you?

Staying close to makers and builders is key. They are well grounded and have much to teach us. Early printmaking work was magic, and as powerful for me as the physical work of building construction. Daily studio time moves the work forward. I still find inspiration from women who have fought hard to give me the opportunity to be a player.

Creative problem-solving is the best of every profession. I know some people in business who ask far more creative questions every day than some who work in the arts.

How has your background in architecture and design influenced your painting?

Design is the most empowering and creative work imaginable. Excellence comes from steady hard work, and constant rearrangement of priorities. The best solutions in architecture come from deep understanding of a site, materials and communities that  will use the space. If everything you design looks the same, you are simply lazy, and not observing or listening to the uniqueness of each problem. I love the long hours of immersion in creative work, and they help me learn new skills and see new directions.

Why are you drawn to abstraction?

Abstract work is simply beautiful and free, but it has very rigorous bones. Those who are best at it—two of my own favorites, Scottish artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Californian Richard Diebenkorn—are deeply grounded in their disciplined drawing practices. Freehand drawing fixes ideas in my memory. I hope that my artwork is looser than the architectural drawings I’ve made over the past 40 years.

What is it about an idea or scene that says, “Paint me!”?

I simply start in by putting watercolor on a big piece of good rag paper, with little notion of where that will lead me! I build a painting layer by layer with more watercolor, gouache, pencil and ink. I put the work in progress up on the wall to look at it from a distance, consider the next layers and decide when it is finished.

What type of reference do you use: Sketches? Photos? Memory? Imagination?

I am constantly referring to books with images of my favorite artists
and designers.

I make regular short trips to museums and galleries to see a particular work or show.

I am observing colors and compositions that I see on my daily walks
to my studio.

There seems to be an appearance of art as a musical composition as well in your work. Can you comment on this?

It is no surprise that many successful musicians studied architecture. There are shared notions of structure, color and rhythm in both
creative practices. I love listening and, in my next life, I will be a backup R&B singer.

Do your paintings tell a story?

I think so, but each person sees different things in my combinations of colors and lines.

Has there been an evolution in your work within the past five–10 years?

I certainly hope so. I loved being an architect full time, and worked hard at it. I now do very occasional architecture design work, and enjoy the connection to builders/owners. For the most part, though, my current focus is on abstract printmaking and painting work on paper. My goal is to work with new color combinations, leave more breathing space in my mark making, and explore new techniques and materials.

What time of day is most productive for painting?

I am an early riser and enjoy full studio days with long walks outside at either end of the day and/or YMCA workouts in the middle of the day. I hope to still be working this way when I am in my 90s.

What does being an artist mean to you?

Joy and great good fortune. Art has taught me so much. Being part of
a community of creative makers like Portland’s Peregrine Press is totally inspiring. These are my peeps.

What do you love about painting or what drives you to paint?

Working with color and composition is endlessly fascinating and challenging. People who do not understand this say to me, “You must have fun every day!” I do NOT.

I love what I am doing, but the challenges are many. I am quite untethered if I do not stay with it and move through the difficult moments.

What do you hope to give people through your paintings?

A reminder to all that creative work brings great beauty and innovation to our crazy world. Design should be widely taught. Creative people should be celebrated. We cannot let our communities cut art, music
and literature out of their school curricula. Take a stand! Foster creativity, and support the arts every day, now more than ever.

. . .

Represented by Ocean House Gallery.

Favorite Maine restaurant?
Cong Tu Bot in Portland.


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