Keeping an Open Mind

Primary Colors With Eggs (oil, 17×19) is a 2000 Art Competition finalist.

“I painted in watercolor for 20 years and I never had any intention of painting in oils,” says Suzy Smith of Albuquerque, New Mexico. “But when I hit 40, my kids were in college and it seemed time for a change.”

The results are oil paintings like Primary Colors. “I was painting crystal vases with colored water and I happened to find these jars in a cupboard,” she says. “It was such a simple painting in subject and in execution. There?s just something about it.” Smith is mostly known for her watercolor still lifes that feature black-and-white-striped sheets as backdrops. “I like a lot of color, and the black and white stripes seem to set them off.”

Because Smith doesn?t quickly alternate between watercolor and oil (she?ll paint for several months to a year in one medium and then switch over), she chooses her subjects carefully. “Some things just look better in oil,” she says. “For instance, I recently did some cowboys in watercolor, but I couldn?t get their faces dark enough. And if I?d painted Primary Colors in watercolor, the many layers would have been tedious, and I couldn’t have achieved the color saturation I crave with the same amount of work as in oil.

“I hate to make it sound like watercolor is problematic because I?ve painted in it for so long and have never found it limiting,” she adds. “But I?m glad I have a choice to do paintings in either watercolors or oils.”

At least Smith will never have to worry about what to paint next no matter what her medium. She works from slides, often shooting many still lifes in one or two days. “I?ll paint from several of my slides, and then I get a new idea,” she says. “I literally have books of future paintings I haven?t gotten to because I keep getting new ideas.”

It?s hard to say how many other still life paintings will be set aside with her latest idea: figure paintings. “That?s actually where I started 20 years ago when I began taking art classes,” she says. “When I had kids it was easier for me to set up a still life and work from it. Now that I?m in a different spot in my life, I thought I?d go back to the figure. I?ve also painted a few portraits.”

But she won?t forget about her simple still lifes or her still lifes with the striped backgrounds anytime soon, says Smith. “Even my figures have striped pillows behind them.”

Although Desmond O?Hagan studied art at the University of New Mexico and completed a program in graphic design at The Colorado Institute of Art in Denver, he largely considers himself self-taught. As a master pastelist with the Pastel Society of America, he?s won several awards from the organization, as well as the George Innes Jr. Memorial Award from the Salmagundi Club and the Prix?d Pastel “Best of Show” award from the International Association of Pastel Societies. O?Hagan is listed in Who?s Who in American Art, and his pieces can be found in both public and private collections in the United States, Japan, Canada and throughout Europe. He lives in Denver, Colorado, and is represented by E.S. Lawrence Gallery (Aspen, Colorado, and Charleston, South Carolina), Saks Galleries (Denver), Oxford Gallery (Rochester, New York) and Navarro Gallery (Taos, New Mexico, and Sedona, Arizona).

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