We’d like to congratulate representational oil painter Bill Suys on his recent awards at the 2018 Olmsted Plein Air Invitational, where his paintings earned the Matisse Award of Excellence and Best Overall Group. I’ve asked Bill to tell us more about his work and his advice for other artists here. Enjoy!
Cherie Dawn Haas: Congratulations on your recent achievement. Please tell us about your winning piece; how did you come up with the idea for this composition/subject, for example?
Bill Suys: As the award was for “body” of work (three competition paintings), I’ll give you an overall answer, along with comments for each:
I am working toward developing plein air paintings that go beyond surface and “scene.” Because the Olmsted’s Atlanta area has such a rich history, I knew there would be opportunities to find subject matter that really spoke to me on an emotional and intellectual level, and that was my objective and intent going into each of the paintings I created. I was not disappointed.
“Silent Search for Freedom”
This year, being in the one-room space of a former slave cabin, I felt a sense of spirit that echoed a family of people who may have been constrained but still carried a dream outside of their condition. When I saw the worn cotton gathering basket holding the product of their labor and confinement, I had to express it in a way that quietly reached for the promise held by the light beyond.
“Old Friends” (below)
Two years ago, I began a block-in of the blacksmith shop, drawn to the beautiful, functional tools and environment of what I consider a rugged, but artistic, profession. To my surprise, a re-enactor came in and brought the shop to life. It was such a joy to paint, and the piece won an award in that year’s competition. Returning to the shop this year, I was immediately focused on the magical still life that was left for me … an anvil on its stand, a cooling bucket, and a mallet; a wealth of composition, patina, and useful artistic potential.
“Spring Showers — Cartersville” (shown at top)
For many years I painted in watercolor, and I often returned to a railroad station in my old home town. The spirit of time and space suggested by the tracks and depot always moved me. Painting this station, along with the on and off rain and gusts of wind, transported me into history and back. Though there’s no train visible, it may be just beyond our vision.
CDH: I see that you paint quite a variety of subjects. Which is your favorite, and why?
BS: I have a wide variety of interests, and I find beauty and depth and life in so many subjects. I must say, my favorite is portraiture; I often paint what I consider are portraits of animals, but I truly love the process of bringing a human to life! The rich experiences I’ve had while my portrait paintings gel, and the often emotional responses received from some truly exceptional individuals I’ve had the privilege to paint, bring me a depth of joy and satisfaction that is beyond explanation. Sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s true.
CDH: How has your artistic path changed or evolved over the years?
BS: I’ve drawn constantly since my earliest memory; it’s part of what I do on a daily basis. I’ve always believed that I needed to build my craft so that as my true artistic vision developed and matured, I would be able to more effectively express it. I feel I am now entering that phase, and I am continually “feeling” more and exploring as I create and paint. My life’s experience is increasingly combined with a life of art.
CDH: What advice do you have to artists who are just starting out, particularly as plein air painters?
BS: Your desire for art has to come from love of the process and the act of doing. Relying on external sources for your reward will lead to disappointment. The willingness to continually grow as an artist will be commensurate with the love of the work.
CDH: Anything else you’d like to add?
BS: I’ve had the incredible good fortune of traveling the world to assemble a heartfelt collection of art for a forward-thinking corporation. Through that process, I’ve seen tremendous potential in young artists, and I’ve also seen how maturity adds richness and resonance to an artist’s body of work. I’m excited to see where maturity will take me! (I mean artistic maturity — the other kind may never happen…)
And let’s hope it doesn’t! I’d like to thank Bill for taking the time to share his insights with us. Stay tuned for future artist Q&A’s here and in the PleinAir Art Podcast with Eric Rhoads.