This artist showcase brings you the work of Susan Spangenberg. Susan produces work for the process of expression, not the final result, and the act of creating can be painful, but it’s also healing at the same time. The interview with Susan is a moving testament to how powerful creativity can be for some people, and how being an artist – and making art -can be equally a cure and a curse.
When did your interest in art/creating begin?
I started creating from my earliest memory, the age of three. I didn’t speak or look people in the eye for much of my life. (I lived in fear, coming from an abusive household and then being further traumatized in the mental health system). Art was my voice and form of expressing myself and still is today.
What is your starting point for each piece?
The starting point of my art work is a thought, a phrase, a joke, an emotion, a fear, an anxiety, an issue I’m trying to overcome personally, the news of the day. Some pieces are done more impulsively than others, like my suicidal, emotional, self-referential work. Other work I am more conscious of creating and aware of, such as my social/political art which tends to be more graphic and takes more time and thought to execute. I’ve learned to embrace the fear, excitement and process of creating. It took me a long time to embrace this desire instead of suppressing it. I now realize the process of creating – the fear of the unknown, letting go and trying new things is my freedom and how I grow and surprise myself. I admit I work quickly and getting it out is what is important, not how beautiful or technically proficient it is. Technique is not my strength. It’s torture when I do not act on my impulses. Even when I try not to create, eventually I must give in, so I can relax and stay sane.
Who/what influences your work?
I’ve been influenced by artists overall. However, for the most part they’ve been actors, writers and musicians. Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger, Steve McQueen, Emily Dickinson, Tennessee Williams, John Lennon, Iggy Pop, Johnny Cash, my late great acting teacher, Sanford Morris. (When I was growing up, my dream was to be an actor, not a visual artist).
What do you hope the viewer gets from your work?
I try not to worry what the viewer sees. I have no control over that. The work takes on a life of its own and the viewer I hope has some connection with it. Holding someone’s attention is the most difficult part and quite humbling. If someone bothers to look at my work in this age of information and over-stimulation, I am pleased.
What do you think about the term outsider art? Is there a term that you think works better?
I’ve heard many different definitions over the years for the term ‘outsider art’. Let’s break the word outsider down to the simplest form and I’ll keep this definition without changing it or suggesting anything better or different (I’m not one for labels). Ultimately all artists feel like “outsiders” by definition, in that I believe none of us feel like we fit into society. And non-artists also feel like they don’t fit into society. Isn’t this why we all love art? This tug of war within ourselves individually, that we do not feel we fit into society and yet we all try to fit in because we must live in some form of society is what makes us all outsiders and outsider artists.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently writing my memoir and I hope to publish it.
Where do you see your work taking you in the future?
I don’t know where I see my art taking me in the future. What I would like is for my art to mean something and to leave the world in a better place somehow. Art is work and physically and mentally draining. I wish I didn’t need to create. It is a curse in one sense and also a life saving outlet. I hope one day I don’t feel the need to be an artist or even call myself one. Being comfortable with myself, alone with myself and being in my own skin is very difficult for me. Perhaps if I felt good about myself, I wouldn’t feel the need to be an artist. I do know that art will continue to allow me to heal myself and also connect with others. Connecting with other people is also a difficult thing for me. Perhaps one day I will paint all the pretty boring things in the world, and that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, because it might mean that I’m over all the pain in my life.