Ferdinand | Plaster, Acrylic, and Artist’s Ink | 30 x 66 inches | 2022

Artist Spotlight: Susan Eddings Pérez

Susan Eddings Pérez arrived at the realization that she was, in fact, an abstract artist when the interior design clients for whom she’d been creating elaborate, atmospheric custom wall and ceiling finishes asked if they could keep, to display in their homes, the sample boards she’d prepared for them. “At first, I was a ‘finisher-slash-designer,’” she says with a laugh, considering her evolution. “Then, I was a ‘designer-slash-muralist.’ Now, since around 2019, it’s only ‘artist.’” 

Photo: Rob Lang

In her artwork, vibrant fields of acrylic paint intermingle with textured swathes of plaster and gleaming gold leaf to produce enthralling images that often give viewers the sense that realistic forms may be rising from their depths. Could that shimmering passage in Finding Joy actually be a stallion at full gallop? Or perhaps it’s a distant mountain cordillera emerging from the mists, its peaks gleaming in the sunshine.

A Western setting no doubt plays some key inspirational role in Pérez’s art. Though she was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois, and studied interior design at the University of Minnesota, Pérez settled and raised her two children in the small town of Sperry, Oklahoma, just outside of Tulsa. That’s where she came to specialize, but not exclusively, in murals for kids’ rooms, even earning the number-one spot in an HGTV countdown of the nation’s top-10 interior designers for the pint-sized set. 

Finding Joy | Plaster, Metal Leaf, Acrylic, and Resin | 48 x 48 inches | 2021

Eventually, she broadened her clientele, transitioned full-time into fine art, and established a primary base in Santa Fe, New Mexico, opening a pair of galleries — managed by her husband Pablo — across the street from each other in the elite environs of Canyon Road, where the couple shows her paintings along with works by other artists. “I try to get back to my home and studio in Tulsa maybe a week to 10 days a month, to hole up and get more work done.”

That work begins with large brown-board panels on which Pérez gradually builds up as many as 10 textured layers of plaster in different areas — sometimes natural white, sometimes colored with acrylic and even small particles of gold leaf that make the paint shimmer. Along the way, she’ll also apply sheets of gold leaf, as well as thin washes of acrylic that conjure mesmerizing illusions of depth. In a final step, she applies a neat small square of plaster in one corner to serve as her artist’s mark — which enables an owner to turn the abstract piece any which way they want without putting a conventional signature on its side or upside down. 

Natural Order of Things | Plaster, Acrylic, and Metal Leaf | 60 x 60 inches | 2022

Of course, that’s not the case for Pérez’s occasional representational works such as Ferdinand, an impressive longhorn steer viewed head-on. “I want my animal paintings to feel like the subjects were sitting for a portrait,” she says. “Without a barn or a field in the background, it can work as well in a New York City loft as it does on a ranch in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, or Texas.”

Pérez is represented by the Susan Eddings Pérez Gallery and Gallery 716 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she’ll have a solo exhibition August 9 through September 6; and at Royce Myers Gallery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she has a solo show from May 3 through 31.

Based in San Rafael, California, Norman Kolpas is the author of more than 40 books and hundreds of articles. He also teaches nonfiction writing in The Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension.

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