Some artists cite nature, lovers, and muses as a source of their inspiration–for Susan Washington it is fashion. Washington’s work is steeped in visual inspiration from haute couture runway shows such as that of Yohji Yamamoto, Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Vivienne Westwood. Having spent her earlier chapters in life deconstructing dressmaking and working on Fifth Avenue for luxury designers like Christian Dior, Washington’s strong narrative of collages and textiles caused her “aha!” moment five years ago. Feeling unsatisfied with the business of fashion, Washington ventured into her own artistic outlet, cultivating a process that combined both fashion and fine art. Using a canvas, textiles, paper, and oil, the artist executed her vision.
Gravitating to the oeuvres of Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, and Joan Mitchell, Washington has continued to push boundaries, re-inventing her work with each new piece while continuing to maintain the cohesive thread that creates her signature look.
“My work is inherently autobiographical,” the artist says. “A lot of the palettes I used are triggered by certain runway shows. I also have recurring themes that refer to ocean, sailing which were important growing up on the beach in Miami and New York.”
Washington’s works have been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and the Hamptons. Read more about the artist’s creative process below.
Tell us about this series of work.
This most recent collection of work is called ‘Catwalk,’ and it was originally inspired from the Valentino Couture Spring/Summer 2019 show. The first piece I created was ‘Valentino Couture.’ It was an immediate reaction to that really emotional show. Everything about it moved me but I was compelled to explore the colors and the movement of the fabric. The work has since evolved to include a process in which I transfer ink from fashion magazines (as well as art magazines) onto the oil paint on the canvas, using them very loosely as compositional elements. This serves as the base of the painting, then I build from there using oil paint and oil sticks.
Where do you source your materials?
All over! The main oils I use come from a factory in Kingston, NY, where I visit often. But I also include textile in my work and occasionally dress patterns. Since textile could take 200 years to break down in our landfills, I like to recycle it. Whether it’s left over canvas after stretching for a painting, old unwearable vintage kimonos or someone’s very worn old couture dress. It’s a small way to keep things out of landfills and preserve a little piece of history. A lot of my dress patterns are vintage, and I have gotten the majority of them from France.
What is your philosophy on life?
Live your best life. Treat fellow humans with respect. Do good. Love hard, work hard and play hard.
What is one artist living or dead you feel a great connection to? Someone who’s work has inspired your own practice and what you’re creating these days?
Robert Rauschenberg. I’m the girl who cried the first time I saw ‘Canyon 1959’! It’s not a work someone normally would cry over, but I was so moved by it! Rauschenberg’s work has become so important and meaningful in my own work. I love the way he breaks up his canvas in so many of his works using a strict gridline structure and I love his sense of exploration in art. The exhibit at MOMA, ‘Among Friends,’ was one great example. It spanned over 6 decades of his career and filtered through all mediums in the most incredible collaborations. He was genius.
Tools or mediums you’re dying to experiment with?
I have this art bucket list and I note things I want to explore at some point. One of the things on there I want to experiment with is sculpture, reconstructing my paintings into 3-dimensional works with metal.
Silence or sound while creating? If sound, what are you listening to right now?
MUSIC! Always, music. I have really eclectic taste though and you could hear anything from Biggie Smalls, TroyBoi, Sex Pistols to Phillip Glass blaring out of the studio. Right now, I’ve got Portishead playing, “Dummy.”
If you could have a drink with one artist, who would it be?
OMG just one? There are so many! But if I have to pick one it would be Joan Mitchell. She’s the boss!
Name your favorite female artist.
What makes you excited about the future?
The possibilities! To know we live in a time where anything is possible and if you are focused and work your ass off you can make great things happen. That makes me excited!
What is your approach to color?
I am playing with a lot of new colors in this recent collection but in past collections color was optional. I did a lot of black and white work only using a little color at the end. With this past collection, color has become more important as I’m really connecting with some of the palette’s designers are using. But I’ll be honest, catch it while you can, because once the cold weather starts to come, I somehow feel I will be gravitating back towards black and white for a bit. We will see!