Susanne Dotson is a LaGrange, Ohio native who has maintained studios in both Cleveland and Columbus. She is a graduate of the University of Akron, Magna cum Laude, BFA 1974 drawing and painting major, and of the Columbus College of Art & Design, MFA 2019. Susanne creates vibrant paintings including mixed theme compositions - most recently concentrating on detailed explorations of flowers and landscapes in both small and large-scale formats.


Q&A with Susanne Dotson and SGG

1) Tell us about this body of work and what compelled you to create this new collection of gardens - aside from the opening date

I DO love a deadline! Multiple elements drive me both as an artist and a gardener. This show and its title evolved from my experience at summer’s end when I disassemble my garden and grieve for its loss to time and memories. My life mantra is to revel in the joy and happiness with the gift of every day. I choose to have my work express that life story through the exuberance of color and imagery. I’m keenly aware of the pressure of time, which drives me to create nearly every day and keep working on the stories I tell through my paintings. 

Gardens can seem like a trite subject as “pretty” can be loaded with negative connotations. However, there is nothing more joyous than to stroll through a garden and marvel at the breathtaking beauty of nature. Summer with its explosion of color is especially magical, with the brilliantly colored blooms resonating within yards of green in all of its permutations. These new paintings reveal the visual memories of an irregular edge of a leaf, or the multi-freckled spots on a flower petal, or the overwhelming lushness of the foliage. Memory fragments the images, and I am attempting to paint those feelings we experience with abstracted parts of a garden. Many times I add or subtract parts of a flower to give a painting the essence of the garden rather than try to paint what is real. I want the eye to wander, discover, and reimagine a garden. 

2)  What is your process - sometimes you start with a photo, but at what point does your imagination take over?

I start by painting a saturated color on the canvas. A very hot blue or a simmering red are my current favorites. I want the base color to “peek through” to add to the fragmentation and to eliminate the harshness of the white gessoed canvas. I use fragments of a leaf or flower from various photos to create the overall composition. I draw with chalk because it’s easy to revise or erase on the painted canvas surface. To begin the first brush strokes, I use my rule of “I know what shape needs to be painted” which is always daunting. This is the time when imagination takes over by employing the formal properties of playing color, shape, and discovery onto the surface.  

I never know exactly where the painting is going, but I am constantly reacting to the forms, lines and color on the canvas. I am never fearful of repainting or covering up an area that isn’t working because I know I can paint it better the next time, or the next time…or even the next time after that. As many artists know, a painting will take its own course and will become its own entity, and we must allow the work to be what it's destined to become.

3)  Your paintings include so many layers of colors and forms, how do you decide when you’ve finally finished one?

Done is sometimes difficult because over-painting can be as deadly to freshness as an under-resolved piece. I paint on multiple canvases at the same time as each one informs the others. When I sense the finish is closing in, I evaluate edges, corners, and any other less-than-well-painted zones. Brush work needs to be deliberate. Color needs to force the eye to move around the painting, and the image must possess the elusive quality of not telling everything at one glance.

4) We have to ask - what is your favorite flower?

My most favorite is a gardenia. I have tried to grow them over the years and they always become bug infested. I love roses and daylilies too, but the purity of the simple design of a gardenia is my favorite.

5) You’re always impeccably dressed. Who are your favorite designers?

Thanks for the high compliment. The fun of getting dressed is inventing what I want to look like that day. I have a wonderful wardrobe from when I worked in business and I love to mix all of those pieces. Many jackets have patches on them as they sport holes from wear. I call that patina! Of course, there are fashion designers I love and wish I owned closets full of their garments. I adore the wickedly crisp tailoring of Alexander McQueen, the classics reinvented by Stella McCartney, and I long for a Karl Lagerfeld Chanel anything.