Once you’ve met Suzie and interacted with her work, you simply know this is a woman you want to get to know more. With a deep sense of wisdom, there’s a wildness to everything she brings to the table. Last year, I encountered her work at a show in Millville, CA for the first time. It was stunning, different, and still one of my favorite nights in Redding to date. Rather than choosing to place her work within a gallery space, she made her show opening public. Everything was within a barn. The subject matter, horses, were mirrored by having live horses in the show, creating a stunning experience. Paired with a string quartet, string lights, and a glass of wine in hand, it was the most stunning show I’ve attended. Rather than choosing something austere, she built a setting and experience, making the show and artwork accessible to anyone. As a girl from Kentucky, I fell in love with her subject and knew everytime I interacted with it, I was reminded of home.
Keep reading for the full story after the jump!
Maker Stories: Suzie Burgess Art
How did you get your start in art? How did your work evolve over time?
When I was little, my sister drew all the time. I began drawing with her. I would draw from National Geographic or horse magazines. Art was a natural thing for me. School in general was the worst. It was traumatic in some ways. I had some learning disabilities with audio processing. School was just hard. I was an old soul. I could feel a lot of what was going on around me, so the social aspect of being at school was challenging as well. Art class was always my safe place. I just thrived there. I was never one of those multi gifted people who struggled what to choose or do. For me, art was always the thing. Jack was my high school art teacher. I met him at a boarding school in New Hampshire. Mr. Burgess was 27 and I was 16 when I met him. I started taking art class with him in my sophomore year. By senior year, he had become like a brother to me. He was loved by our family. At one point in time, we tried to set him up with my older sister because she had a crush on him. We realize we really loved each other and ended up getting married a year after high school.
I ended up being a studio major at Wheaton College. Out of college I always had a studio. Whether it was in a home, or in a different space, returning to the studio always felt like home. Having a space outside of my house has always been really good for me. It’s separate intentionally. There’s no dirty dishes in the sink, there’s no laundry, and there’s less distractions pulling you away from your work.
How did you to choose horses as your subject?
We lived in the woods in Harvard, Mass. where I grew up. Across the street there was a yellow old barn. For Christmas one year, my parents bought my sister a horse. Her name was Kicky. (I would later inherit her.) She was an Appaloosa and had black spots on her butt. She was so sweet. She didn’t kick which is why she was named Kicky, I guess. I would ride her bareback. It was wonderful and I loved her. This is what started the love affair of horses. From then on out, I would find them everywhere I went. I was drawn to them. Whether they would be housed at fairs or fields, I would pull over, get out of the car, and interact with horses.
In New England, there’s a lot of dressage barns in my town. I would work at barns in exchange for lessons. I would work with Grand Prix dressage horses in exchange for mucking stalls, tacking horses, and cooling them off. I would work at horse camps as well. It was a facet of life that was always there. As far as painting goes, I was painting people at the time. I was drawn to people due to their essence and spirit. I would light them with strong contrast, and would start pulling out blue, greens, and purples, drawing out color within faces. Then it got to the point where my commissions were portraits of children. I was photographing children and it was challenging. You’re working with a parent who desires every feature to be perfect. Photographing a child is another art form. Doing commissions of children was challenging. Part of my passion is painting big. I’m not interested in painting small. None of my pieces are smaller than 4 feet. The image needs to be large on the canvas. I want the viewer to feel as if they’re in the room, with the subject, whether that is a person or a horse. I was a painter and it was something I was good at, but I wasn’t really passionate about it. Jack is a landscape painter. If he could, he would go out and paint landscapes everyday. He is from Lexington, Kentucky, which happens to be the horse capital of the world. He painted barns. Jack was the artist and I would do paintings sometimes. Because of the learning disabilities and the challenges that came with school, I never believed I could pursue something on a certain level and be successful.
I’ve had intense seasons of anxiety and depression. In seventh grade, I had a massive breakdown. I missed 37 days of school because I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. I would wake up nauseous and wouldn’t want to go to school because I was sick. It has been apart of my journey for a long time. I was a pretty joyful kid, but it truly robbed me of my joy. There’s this sense of being afraid of being afraid. It was pretty tormenting. Being able to go to the studio, have a sense of place, having focus, and shutting off my brain and engaging with my heart was always incredible. It was very healing.
We moved to Redding in 2011. In 2014, I had Eloise our second daughter and after I had her, I realized that I was ready to create and make something. The “baby season” of my life was complete and there was something within me that needed to be expressed.
In Redding, it’s common for everyone to have horses. At the time we moved to Redding, my cousin had decided to complete a coast to coast trip on horseback. She started in California and her goal was to go ocean to ocean. At the beginning of her trip she had an extra horse and asked me if I wanted her. Here I was in Redding with this horse. (She completed her trip over the course of two years.) Once horses are inside of you, it always remains. There’s something about people who love horses. It’s a mysterious connection and bond people have.
At my house in Boston, there’s a Belgian Draft across the street from my parent’s house. This horse, he used to work at Disney in Florida. Every time I visit, we would go hang out with him. He was a painting in my show from last year. At the show, I had a Draft horse go up to the painting and interact with it. It was amazing. As I was at my parent’s house interacting with this Belgian Draft, my sister looks at me and states, “You really love this.” Something in me lights up. It’s real for me.
I ended up selling the horse my cousin gave me and purchased a Morgan named Danny. Every time I would go out and ride, I would end up taking pictures. I started photographing him, connecting with this horse. There was no agenda, I just really loved it.
The first one I did, I painted in my kitchen. Eloise was 6 months and would get into the paint all the time. It was after I did that one, I completed 3 other paintings.
There was something where I was connecting on a deeper, more spiritual level. I feel God’s presence when I’m with horses. I can feel myself. I feel loved, accepted, and valued, when I’m here. I did these three paintings, took them to the Bethel Bazaar, and sold $3600 of paintings. It’s crazy. I didn’t think I was going to sell even one painting. I thought I was just going to show them. I felt like God was saying, “Just do this. Just yes.” I knew I wanted to do it, but there was something significant about that day.
Part of doing this, it felt like I could finally do something where I could contribute and make money. Jack always has to travel for work and it can bring added stress. I loved that I could bring something of value to our family. The horse market is a vast market, where there are many different worlds of horse lovers.
There were specific people who I was able to have connections with. There is a woman in Redding who sells feed to all the hunter jumpers on the West Coast. She set up connections for me in Sonoma, which is how I am able to show work there.
Moving forward, with Jack being from Lexington, I’d love to do a show focusing on race horses there. The barns there are magical. For me, there’s something so beautiful about the back and forth. I begin by spending time with the horses themselves. It’s different than with people. It’s this quiet, form of meditation almost, where I’m present with a creation. You’re outside, connecting with them, and capturing them. Then, you come back into the studio, and it is a whole different experience. Yet, it’s equally personal and quiet.
The show in Millville was magical. It pushed the envelope of what the art scene in Redding could be and through a sense of space, it provided a magical experience.
The shows have been another thing I have loved. Last year, the show in Millville was incredible. It was so fun to have people experience the work and having live horses at the shows. It’s everything to me. I want people to engage in a similar process that I have. There’s something about smelling the horses, putting your head on their neck, and touching their noses. It’s allowing your audience to connect with the horses just as I have.
There are few galleries I have been in where I feel good when I’m inside of them. Often there’s this elitism and pressure when you’re inside of them. “Am I here as a serious buyer? Am I solely wanting to look? Is that okay?” There’s often times bad art or too much on the walls. I want everyone to feel welcome. Anyone can come and experience this work. I build my shows in such a way where people can enjoy it without the pressure of buying something. Creating a gallery in a place is a challenge. When we do shows, we’re building a gallery from the ground up. Jack creates custom easels for each piece. He is phenomenal. When it comes to event time he makes sure everything is covered. We make a really great team. He does the build out, marketing, and graphics for each event. Eventually in Kentucky, I would love to do a show showcasing both of our pieces. Barns and horses- it’s a perfect combination. I think it would be amazing.
What are some dreams you have for the next year?
I would love to sell my work. I’m really focusing on sales and commissions at this point. I need to start experiencing commissions for horses and enjoying the process. I’m probably going to have a handful of those this year. I currently have a canvas print of a painting at Sonoma Horse Park. They host hunter jumper shows throughout the year. We’re currently offering a free commission and raffle at the end of the season. I’ll be doing a show down the street from that park in June. I want to keep painting and to get a show in Kentucky. A huge part of this for me, truly is the painting. I wouldn’t consider myself a photographer. A camera still feels highly technical and I am learn more about photography as I go. It uses a different part of my brain than what I am used to. As I move forward, commissions are a big goal. I’d love to go to Kentucky and photograph some race horses as well.
How do you balance being a fine artist in Redding while embracing where the current market is at?
I see Redding as a beautiful place to live for community. We’ve lived here for 8 years. The community and family we’ve cultivated here is really beautiful. Even being in the studio, I have my best friend Katie next door doing flowers. There’s this back and forth. It’s wonderful. It’s such a rich environment. She comes and critiques my work really well. She has great insight. It is affordable to have a studio here and comparison to larger urban areas. I see this as a place to make the work. With social media and website, the art world has expanded so much. You truly can send your work anywhere. I have to make a pretty amazing box to send them, but it’s doable. There’s Montana, Texas, the East Coast, Kentucky, and the West Coast. There’s so many places where there’s a value for horse lovers. In Redding, it’s been really fun and have people come and see art. There are so many people who have come up and thanked me. They had never attended an event like that before. They had never been to an actual art show. It’s great for the culture here to have access to events like this. It deepens the culture here and provides exposure to something new.
More than anything, it’s been incredible having something to pour myself into and getting out of my head. In this culture, you’re always trying to figure out self growth, healing, and improvement. There’s such a strong desire to become healthy, it can easily become an unhealthy obsession with self and your own process.
After so many years of living in torment and survival mode, the last few years I feel that I’m finally living. It’s a gift.
What does marriage and family look like with two entrepreneurs and creatives?
It’s funny really. With any family, there becomes a norm. There’s a really great buzz in the house when we’re creating. When you’re out in the yard and everyone is working on a project together, there’s a synergy that happens. You’re raking, doing chores, and there’s a good energy. It’s the same in our house. Jack is always working on something or some specific project. I’m always running out to find a horse somewhere and bringing the girls with me. Or I’m editing images alongside the girls. We’re whimsical all the time. We play dress up and go for walks. (Usually still dressed up.) We come home and project movies of horses on the screen. Our friends are the Waldens and their girls have horses. Katie tells me that I’m a gift to her life because she’s not a huge horse person but her girls are. It’s truly been incredible. I think more than anything, the girls love having creative parents. They’re proud of us and the when our work is on display. Sometimes when Abby would do work it would be hard not to critique it. But it’s also helpful to live with someone who understands you and is able to critique one another’s work. There’s a balance to it all.
Follow Suzie and her work on Instagram. She has an upcoming show on the patio of the Redding Sheraton on Saturday June 2nd, from 6-9. Following this show, she will have an additional show on June 10th, from 6-9pm at Sonoma Valley Stables. Her work is available online at suzieburgessart.com.