PHOTOS BY erick guzman
STORY BY anica green
It all began with a bunny on the toilet. Set against a dark blue background, with a large orangey-yellow question mark floating over the bunny’s head, this painting was an early indication of Susan Chen’s artistic talent. “She’s an art prodigy!” the teachers of her after school program exclaimed, shocked that the five-year-old Susan was capable of such skilled work. Prompted by after school classes, art became one of Susan’s favorite side hobbies, although she never expected it to take her as far as it has.
Susan and her sister left their home in Hong Kong at the ages of 10 and 12 to attend boarding school in the U.K. This move began a life of travel and exploration. Wherever Susan went, art went with her. She describes “wanderlust” as one of the driving forces behind her fantastical dreamscapes. “Wanderlust is the idea that the more places you go, you don’t ever really feel satisfied and there’s a power to it...that you’re going to so many new places... but at the same time you feel incredibly lonely”.
Whenever she goes to a new place, Susan goes on long walks, taking pictures of the places that impact her the most and using them to generate paintings. “I like taking black and white photos so I can make up the colors in my head,” Susan says. Her work is largely inspired by David Hockney, who is famous for his brightly colored landscapes. “I’m always curious as to how he uses color. It’s a lot simpler, the colors are so well put together. As a developing painter, it’s something I try to figure out too when I’m doing my own work. I’m asking ‘how can I use less paint?’, ‘how can I make the colors pop?’, ‘how can I layer them so [the piece] comes out stronger?’ It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together.”
Eventually, Susan hopes to reach his level of mastery and recognition. “I want to be the next David Hockney,” she says when asked about her goals for the future. She also dreams of owning a boutique hotel with her paintings in every room, available for purchase upon check-out. If neither of these goals pan out, she can always fall back on her newest side venture: dead dog portraits.
Susan says she often finds herself drawn to British artists like Hockney, perhaps because of her background growing up in the U.K. However, she laments the fact that Asian artists have to establish their careers in the West if they wish to have any success or recognition at home.
Although it began as merely a side hobby, Susan knows that art will always be an important part of her life because she needs it to remain happy and successful. While she entered college with no intention of pursuing art seriously, she soon realized that without art as a serious part of her life, her well-being suffered. “When I’m doing art I’m doing well in life, but if I’m not, I go to shits. In a way it’s a good thing because I know that I have to keep going with my art forever”. Lucky for the rest of us, this means that Chen’s colorful and vibrant dreamscapes will be around for many years to come.
To see more of Susan’s work, head on over to http://susanmbchen.com/