Susan Sparks

Susan Sparks

My most recent work is an exploration of a new media and technique, as well as an exploration of sight and sound. A little over two years ago I was shown a new technique using what I call “Ink, Tape & Magic.” The process involves aluminum plumber’s tape, foam core, India ink and a drawing/etching process. The result is a piece that looks like a cross between an etching plate and a piece of metal repoussé work. The current series is all based on visual representations of patterns and textures of sound. The band “Kinky” has a song called the “Headphonist”. It is about walking around wearing your headphones, giving your own sound to your visual world, and basically blocking out the sounds of the rest of the world around you. There is a line in the song that goes, “… everything that I see has a sound, but what is the shape of silence?” After listening to this one day in the car, it got me to thinking about pattern, rhythm and texture in sound and how best to represent that visually. I was introduced to the “Ink, Tape & Magic” around the same time, and decided to experiment with the two. I spent many hours just listening to different songs and types of music, everything from classical to jazz, to new age, to funk & classic rock and anything else that I could get my hands and ears on. And, while I listened, I paid close attention to the “visual” patterns that the music created. This process has culminated in my current “Art of Noise” series.

Susan Sparks is a professional artist and entrepreneur returned to southwestern PA after several years on the west coast, 8 years in Orange County, CA, and 10 years in Seattle, WA.

Since retuning to PA, I have been immersed in non-profit arts management. I am currently the Director of the Kaufmann Center, a multicultural, multidisciplinary, multigenerational arts center located in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and under the Hill House Association umbrella. In this position, I have been charged with creating arts programming and events that run the gamut from children’s summer camp programming to full seasons of entertainment for all ages.

Recent past experience includes Executive Director at Market Street Arts, Executive Managing Director of the Dance Alloy Theater, Director of External Affairs at The Mattress Factory museum on Pittsburgh’s Northside, and before that the interim Director at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, PA. Before being recruited at Touchstone, I served as the Director of the Charleroi Art & History Center, now SwiftWaters Arts Network, for 3 years, where we (my husband and I, and some really great friends) built a reputation for producing quality regional exhibits. I also teach art classes to young and old alike, and recently built an arts program for at-risk youth in collaboration with Southwestern Pennsylvania Health Services network. All of these activities come from my deep-rooted commitment to building strong, community-based programs for young and old alike.

I have worked in the art field professionally since 1974. Prior to moving to the west coast, I was very active in the local art scene in the metropolitan Pittsburgh area, serving on the boards of directors of the Creative Arts Council of the Mon Valley and the Arts Council of Washington County. I was a founding member of the now defunct Alumni Arts Association of California University of Pennsylvania and Southwestern Pennsylvania Arts Network. I currently am a member of The Pittsburgh Watercolor Society, the Pittsburgh Society of Artists where I am on the Board, I am an artists member and serve as Vice President, I have just recently completed my six-year term of the Board of Directors and Chair of Exhibitions for the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, and I served as the co-chair of AAP’s 97th 99th, and 100th Annuals, held at the Carnegie Museum of Art, I am on the Board of Directors at Fe Gallery in Lawrenceville, and am a founding member of SwiftWaters Arts Network.

In addition to exhibiting my work extensively throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Washington, I have contributed illustrations to several local publications. I have served as juror for several fine arts exhibits and as co-chairperson of several local & regional exhibits. I served as the Chair of the Exhibitions Committee of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh and have served as co-chair of several exhibits for the members of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, held throughout the Pittsburgh region. In the past six years, my own work has been shown in several juried and invitational exhibitions throughout the region, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, The Butler Institute of American Art - Youngstown, Gallery 707 and 937 Liberty in the Cultural District, Pittsburgh Technical Institute, Iron Gate Gallery Touchstone Center for Crafts, Gallery In The Square – Shadyside, Sweetwater Center for the Arts - Sewickley, Le Poire Gallery, Sewickley Gallery and Frame Shop – Sewickley, 3rd Street Gallery in Carnegie, Westmoreland Nationals, Greensburg, Three Rivers Arts Festival, SwiftWaters Arts Center - Charleroi PA, the FE Gallery 250 in the Making, Group show and Off the Wall in Lawrenceville, and the Andy Warhol Museum as a participant in the 98th Annual Juried Exhibition, and the 97th and 100th Annual Juried Exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh. I recently won a Juror’s Award for my piece in the Pittsburgh Society of Artists Annual at the Fein Gallery, and I had works in the critically acclaimed exhibition Interplay at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, at Fallingwater, Point Park University and several other galleries throughout the region.

Personally, I do mostly two-dimensional works in painting, drawing and printmaking. I paint with aqueous media, watercolor and acrylic, and pastels. In my acrylic work I have succeeded in attaining the depth an appearance of an oil-like technique as well as the use of transparent washes and glazes in a more traditional use of acrylic. My drawings include works done in pen and ink, charcoal, graphite, and pastel. In addition to my traditional media pieces, I also combine techniques in many of my works on paper. I am also computer literate, and do most of my design and illustration in Adobe Creative Suite.

My painting work is done in three rather distinct styles. The subject matter and the inspiration directly determine the technical approach to each piece. Some of my most current watercolor works, including “Fractured Iris”, and “Succotash 1” evolved out of exercises that I do with students in my watercolor classes. I start out creating 2 paintings, either of the same subject or completely different subjects. After “finishing” the painting process, I begin literally destroying the piece by slicing it up into thin strips. Then, depending on the desired result, I either weave 2 pieces together or I reassemble one painting over top of another, but juxtapose the slices allowing parts of the second piece to show through. In more personal paintings like “Bella Luna” and “Whole of the Moon”, I use pigment to stylistically express what I call the “Joy of Woman”. Then, borrowing from the inspiration of Georgia O’Keefe, one of my earliest stylistic influences, I use a more traditional use of washes & glazes to create paintings like “Rose” and “Begonia”, part of a series of white florals I created after a long time away from the studio.

My most recent acrylic work focuses on organic elements created in a monochromatic palette, primarily umbers and ochres.

I have an emotional - though not stylistic - inheritance from the Dadaists, a school of revolutionary artists from the 1920’s who professed “anti-art” - nonrepresentational art, which is greatly influenced by chance. Although most of my work is quite clearly representational, I call on the spirit of the Dadaists in the initial conception of my work. My most current work relies heavily on the Dada theories. I am experimenting with some non-traditional media and am currently working on a series that I call the “Art of Noise” where I express music, sound and the patterns and textures of sound in a visual language. Literature, and humor are also main influences on my work. If wit and humor do not appear in the work itself, they find their way into my titles. I incorporate that satire into my art by distorting reality, ever so slightly, enhancing it with my own “off-center” observations.

Although I enjoy doing shows and exhibits, and find them very gratifying, they are not the reason that I do art. I do art because it is what I do. I am an artist and have always been one. I knew as a child that I would do art, all of my life. I do not feel that because I am an artist that I am different or special. I do feel that I have been gifted with a talent and a different perspective on life, and I enjoy sharing that with others.