KCAC Forum Newsletter Volume 2 Number 7 July 1976
PROFILES: SUZANNE RICHARDS
Today, whenever I visit the Nelson Gallery, the sensation of the huge columns and the mysterious smell that overtakes me as I step inside, always brings back a flood of feelings attached to my first visit at age seven. I was taking art classes recommended by my grade school teachers impressed, I guess, with the “talent” I showed for coloring my blue birds and red apples so beautifully! I was so thrilled to discover such importance and a sense of specialness attached to “coloring”, and it was then I decided to be “an artist.” And, I think it must have been very shortly after that I managed to get my parents to frame some of my crayola drawings and had my first one-woman show on my bedroom wall and fixed up a room in the basement as my studio.
I continued to study art, spending two and a half years at the Kansas City Art Institute before moving to San Francisco and getting a BFA in Painting from the San Francisco ARt Institute in 1965. From there I traveled a year throughout Europe spending most of my time inside the museums seeing first hand all the masterpieces and realizing perhaps that was more of an education than any of my years in art school. I returned to San Francisco to work in an advertising agency and over a period of four years I did everything from secretary, to junior art director, to freelance illustrating, to account executive before I took a long look and realized how little time was left over for painting and decided to quit, come back to Kansas City, and rearrange my life so I could paint all the time and do whatever was necessary to make that possible.
I set up a plan for myself of shows, contests, juried exhibitions, memberships and PR goals that I wanted to accomplish. This basically was – do EVERYTHING there was that came along (locally, regionally, and nationally) that I could do. And that became a full-time job.
Three years have passed now. Some of the feelings I might share with you, or some of the things I didn’t know then and have the answers to now are: Would I have enough discipline and creative input to be able to paint every day? Could I stand living on an income below the federal poverty level when I had become used to a nice salary and rather extravagant lifestyle? Did I really have to start from scratch and go through all the elementary stages of an artists’ career, or couldn’t I just skip it and move into the more rewarding levels? Could I survive in Kansas City as an artist where the “art scene” is hardly recognizable? The answers are all YES.
And so here I am today with a studio in the River Quay, painting away and loving it more and more with every day that passes. A lot of painting time must still be put in before I can say I’ve reached a level of maturity in my work that meets my personal requirements, but I DO KNOW that it is possible to expect to have a successful life as an artist if you are willing to seek out your own solutions to whatever might be obstructing your path.
I don’t have any “definitions” for my “style” of painting and prefer not to explain much other than to talk about what excites me visually and motivates me to go paint. And one thing that intrigues me is light and shadow patterns. You might say I’m a traditionalist in that I still love a canvas and a brush and the formal elements of line, color, form, and space. I’m not, at this point, especially concerned with “what” I paint. And what I’m striving for might be called a visual “feeling” that is truly my own and is transmitted to the viewer via the canvas.
In closing, I do think an artist can live and work in Kansas City and not feel too isolated, but I do feel it is necessary to get back to New York and other art centers as often as possible to be revitalized, not only by the new things that are going on but also to see again and again what’s gone on before us. And I think it is extremely important to all of us to continue to develop a strong art community here.
And each day as I squeeze out my Cadmiums, I think of DeKooning in his studio on Long Island and Diebonkorn in his studio in California, and all the artists in between, squeezing out their Cadmiums and I am so very glad to be a part of it and and not tearing off in a frenzy to a 9:00 am client presentation (after being up all night in preparation), only to convince someone to buy something I don’t believe in myself.
That stronger wordless under-current of meaningfulness I felt at the gallery as a child made such an impact, that today it still provides incentive and sustains me when encountering the daily difficulties and seeming impossibilities of being an artist.