We had the good fortune of connecting with Sheary Clough Suiter and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sheary Clough, why did you pursue a creative career?
Whereas the career choice I made before I became a full time artist…dental hygiene…was routine and predictable, the artistic path is one of uncertainty. Every day in the studio is an exploration and brings surprise into my life. I am never bored, and most days I am full of the excitement and joy of living the life of a maker, even on days in which the quality of the work doesn’t bring immediate satisfaction.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
For 30 years I have painted pretty pictures that have found success in numerous commercial galleries and exhibitions, in various mediums, beginning with watercolor, then acrylic, until 20 years ago, when I was introduced to encaustic, and was gobsmacked….I knew I’d found my medium!
Encaustic paint is made from beeswax, damar resin, and pure pigment, which is heated to its molten form, applied with a brush, then fused with a heat source…as my heat source is a torch, I get to play with fire (!) ….to bind each layer of wax to the previous layer. It can be built up and scratched into like acrylic, but unlike acrylic, you can re heat it and re shape the work any time in the future.
Anyway, my introduction to encaustic was back in Alaska, where I lived for 35 years, after moving there from my home state of Oregon in my mid 20’s. I moved to Colorado Springs 10 years ago and so when I tell you that I didn’t consider myself a professional artist until age 40, and that I had many other occupations (dental hygienist, fishing lodge owner/operator, trip planner, writer and published author) along the way, if you do the math, you won’t be surprised to hear that last month I turned 70. Seventy Strong is my new mantra :).
I became known as something of an expert on painting with encaustic, and for 15 years taught the techniques to others. The last eight years just before Covid, I found immense joy teaching “Introduction to Encaustic” here in Colorado Springs at the Bemis School of Art. But in 2018 after my father passed away from brain cancer, as people do after a deep loss, I gave time to re-evaluating my path and found myself drawn to the idea of stretching beyond the 2D flat painting panel. I also wanted my art to somehow become something more than a living room wall decoration.
When I received word in late 2018 that I had been awarded funding from the non profit encaustic advocacy organization, International Encaustic Artists, to create a new body of work that included 3D sculptural elements, my thoughts of moving off the flat panel were validated and my courage to expand in new directions amplified.
While I continued making work for the galleries that represented my paintings, forever the self taught artist, I embarked on a year of learning new skills and techniques that would facilitate my ideas of building sculptural forms with wax and fabric. The teacher became the student. I took online courses, traveled to workshops and seminars, studied under textile artist heroines such as Anchorage based Amy Meissner, joined textile artist organizations, and all in all, had a ball experimenting and playing.
Of course, I always intended to apply this new knowledge to my beloved medium of encaustic. I was keen to experiment and experience the unknown possibilities of combining fabric, threads and wax to create form. My first foray into art activism and installation work came in Nov 2019 at The Bridge Gallery in Colorado Springs, with the show “I Never Played With Dolls.” https://www.sheary.me/dolls The artwork conceptualized numerous social and political points of view: gender inequity, climate change, gun control. I was proud to be making artwork that wasn’t afraid to reveal personal allegiances, artwork that asked viewers to consider questioning their own historical and social biases.
Each day during the year I made the work for the Dolls show, I entered the studio with permission to play. And what happened during that playing process was I found myself sourcing crafting techniques that originated in my childhood. Sewing and stitching skills from my mother and grandmother, carving from my Grandpa Art, and from my father the architect, an ever growing interest in constructing 3D forms.
I was so keen to continue this direction of work that as soon as that show came down, I sought out a date to exhibit at the venue that I consider one of the most well-respected contemporary galleries in downtown Colorado Springs, Kreuser Gallery. We agreed on a December 2021 exhibition date, giving me two full years to create a new body of work.
Even before knowing what the theme or concept of the new work would be, I had four take-aways from the experience of creating a full-gallery installation at the Bridge Gallery, that I knew would carry forward to the Kreuser Gallery show.
The installation would present artwork that encouraged awareness of social concerns by starting conversations among viewers. I wanted to make art that provoked thought and questioning, without preaching. I came to understand that simply starting a conversation is a form of social activism.
My hope for the new work was to create a bridge between artistic expression and activism, with a goal of effecting awareness of the importance of action by the individual.
Secondly, I wanted the show to include a collaboration. And thirdly, I wanted to include some interactive elements. Encaustic is a very tactile medium, people always want to touch and feel the wax surface, so I wanted to make that an accessible option to gallery attendees.
And finally, I knew I wanted to continue incorporating hand stitching, which to me is an activity honoring the feminine. At some point while creating the dolls show which incorporated textiles and stitching, I came to the understanding that I had bought into a generations-old prejudice that dishonored my own female heritage, one that considered all gendered women’s craft as something “less than” in the professional art world.
As I studied historical accounts such as the suffragettes’ use of texted banners in their efforts to achieve voting rights, I realized that textiles have been used by women as a form of protest for generations. We saw evidence of this just recently at the Met Gala with Representative AOC’s “Tax the Rich” scripted in red across the backside of her borrowed designer dress, and Congresswoman Carolyn B Maloney’s gown emblazoned with “Equal Rights for Women”, pushing for passage of the ERA.
And so my most recent exhibition, December 2021, “The Clothes We Wear,” was a two year project in which the Covid pandemic actually facilitated me staying in my studio to do the work.
There exists a 40 year old fashion industry that began with NAFTA and the movement of manufacturing overseas, that contributes greatly to the polluting of our earth and to preying on economically vulnerable women and children who make The Clothes We Wear. Each artwork in the show conceptualized an element of the unintended, but actual costs, of buying into our culture’s obsession with Fast Fashion.
Bringing attention to the ills created by our obsession with buying new clothes, I wanted to suggest simple alternatives. I wanted to start conversations about ways we as individuals can take action that matters. It’s easy to blame the companies who make our clothing with unsustainable practices, but equally at blame are the consumers, you and me, who buy in to the concept of new fashion every few weeks.
By the time you read this, the show will be down, but my statement is available online at https://www.sheary.me/the-clothes-we-wear and you can view my Artist Talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxLNEXx09rI In early in 2022 I will be making a video and posting to my web site that includes excerpts from the collaborative portion of the opening night reception: Aaron Graves, a local designer, created a mini wardrobe from deconstructing and reconstructing used clothing, as an example of one manner in which people can keep their clothing out of the landfill. And I look forward to expanding and re-installing the exhibition at a future venue.
Finally, for those of you who are also artists, I want to share the biggest take away I’ve had creating these two installations. Start your work from play. I didn’t come to an understanding of what this artwork was really about until well into the work. Theme kills. Embrace Not Knowing. When I began this show, all I knew for certain was that I wanted to create form from wax and fiber. It was about a year into the work, after following my nose to read and research everything from the history of pockets to the significance of red threads that I woke one morning with the show’s title in my head. Do the work, and the work will tell you what it’s about.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would of course take them to a wander through Garden of the Gods, which because I have the good fortune to live on the West Side of Colorado Springs, above historic Old Colorado City, I can actually see some of the rock spires from my home office window! Another favorite close by hiking area is the open space at Red Rocks and Section 16. If they were interested in shopping or dining, we could walk twenty minutes from my home and studio to Old Colorado City where we’d stop in at 45 Degree Gallery, the local gallery that represents my artwork year-round. Also in OCC, Yellow Mountain Tea House is a restful respite where you pick your own tea from a huge selection and it’s poured for your in a “tea ceremony.” Love their steamed black bean buns. If the visitor is a cyclist then we’d either lend or utilize one of the city’s rental bikes to make a circular tour through downtown, Colorado College campus, and surrounding areas along bike trails that follow Fountain and Monument Creeks. Most everywhere from town, you get a view of “America’s Mountain,” Pikes Peak. For a scenic day trip, we could drive up Highway 24 to Green Mountain Falls and enjoy some mountain hiking, as well as more local art (including mine 🙂)at Stones, Bones, and Wood Gallery.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My path to becoming a professional artist would look like one of those brain-storming diagrams, with connecting branches in all directions. Especially when the person doesn’t come to the life full time until later in life. So many other artists have helped me learn my craft, who also helped me learn the business side of being an artist. And of course the gallerists who gave me a chance in the early years by representing and selling my work, many of whom are no longer in business. My current galleries who do the daily work of connecting with art collectors, the Attic Gallery in Camas, WA, Stephan Fine Arts in Anchorage, AK, 45 Degree Gallery in Old Colorado City, Kreuser Gallery in Colorado Springs, Stones, Bones & Wood Gallery in Green Mountain Falls, CO, give me the freedom and confidence to carry on with my work. My daily studio life however would be nothing if not for the love and support of my partner and fellow visual artist, Nard Claar.
Other: Artist Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxLNEXx09rI
Rhonda Van Pelt, Abigail Kreuser, Nard Claar