Suzo Hickey
Spirit of the North, Shannon Hurst, "Culturally Speaking: the work of Suzo Hickey"

“As a child I drew pictures of horses. When I was a teenager I drew pictures of rockstars. When I had children, I drew them.”

While she didn’t start painting until she was 26, she loved it from the start and is still going strong 25 years later.

As a young girl she lived in the small northern coastal community of Prince Rupert, but moved inland in her teens. Her passion for paint came shortly after she enrolled in a fine arts program at Cariboo College.

“In the arts program you get to try your hand at a lot of different things; different kinds of printmaking, different mediums for drawing, sculptural art, mixed-media, different painting mediums, etc. Out of all of that, painting was my hands down favourite. I loved how you could cover up mistakes, or change your mind about the colour or the subject, or just start over if you wanted. I also recognized it as something I could do at home, by myself. I wouldn’t need to rent a grand studio or be part of a printmaking guild in order to use the equipment. I wouldn’t need to go to someplace that had a pottery wheel. It wouldn’t cost a bunch of money to get started and really, you can paint on anything and pieces of wood were easy to come by.

While there are different mediums to painting as well, Suzo is a fan of acrylics.
“Oil takes too long to dry and watercolour means you have to get it right the first time. One of the appeals to painting was the ability to paint over what you didn’t like.”

Throughout the years, her medium has stayed the same yet the subjects that she paints are constantly evolving, similar to life itself.

“I would say my style is changing all the time, maybe more evolving than changing. I started out painting in a figurative/realism style, and the content was given top priority. Over time I have became more interested in the formal aspects of painting, than in exactly reproducing what I see in front of me. Attention to form has always interested me and there are still strong elements of realism in my work, but I feel the emphasis has shifted. In 2004 my 24-year old son Marlon died suddenly from an aortic aneurism. In an effort to break the loop of grief, anger and self-blame, I decided to do something that would honour his memory. Using imagery borrowed from Catholic iconography, medical texts, Marlon’s cartoons and stories and a collection of poems that my daughter wrote called The Children of St. Jude, I began a series of paintings in 2005 that were mixed media constructions. It was hard, but it gave me a safe way to think about Marlon. And now I paint the urban landscape that I am currently living in, which is in East Vancouver; so it is power lines, Vancouver Specials, grey skies and mountains.”

Not only is painting an emotional journey, it is her daily inspiration and meditation.
“I love painting. It never gets boring because I am in charge of it. I can make it as interesting as I want or as challenging as I want. I love working with my hands and creating things. I like being alone in my studio, listening to the radio or books-on-tape, and watching something evolve, something that I am doing. In my last office job I did a lot of graphic design and although I liked doing graphic design, there were too many stakeholders with too many opinions. It was never just your idea. The client always had the final say and you know, a lot of times their ideas were really bad. Painting is also something I can do until I drop dead and since I have no savings or pension plan or stash of RSSP’s, working until I drop dead is a pretty realistic scenario.”

As for the future, Suzo said she wants her art to keep growing and improving and she is working on her new website that will help showcase her talents.
“Having a website is a tool to get your art shown. In theory anyways,” she said. “I guess most artists hope their art will be hanging somewhere 100 or more years from now. I went to Emily Carr College of Art and Design, so maybe what I wish is that someday I will be in the latest edition of Janson’s History of Art and art students will have to study me. I hope 20 years from now my daughter can retire on the sales of my paintings she had stored in the attic.”

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