Suzanne D’Arcy, Featured Artist at Benicia Plein Air Gallery in November
As the featured artist in November at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery, Suzanne D’Arcy’s artwork reflects the suburban and rural environments of her youth. Born in Los Angeles, she spent summers with her five siblings at her grandmother’s 18-acre farm in Mokelumne Hill with cows, goats, pigs, chickens, and exotic birds. As a result, natural, agricultural, and urban scenes, farms and small towns find their way into her soft painterly landscapes. She creates figurative works of people and farm animals and is an avid painter of florals and still lifes. A resident of Moraga, D’Arcy has been a member of the gallery since 2019.
D’Arcy has been painting all her life.
Learning to draw and paint meant learning to observe what’s really there. She remembers an incident in kindergarten when she painted an anatomically correct bull. “The school called my mother and said, ‘we can’t hang this up.’ My mother was mortified, but I stuck to it. You have to paint what you see, not what you think is there.”
She envisioned a career as a veterinarian. But when she entered college at UC Davis in 1967 the school was not yet allowing women to work with large domestic animals. By the time she graduated, Title IX had changed the educational landscape, but it was too late. She chose her other passion and studied art, completing two bachelor’s degrees in art history and studio art. After a few years working in advertising, she went back to school at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, completing an Associate Bachelor of Arts. “It was never about the degrees. I was looking to learn technical skills. The Academy offered classes in beginning painting, drawing, still life, figure. That’s what I wanted, and I found I could satisfy my art drive.” She also studied with artist Van Waldron, well known as a painter of florals, through an adult education program in San Leandro. She considers Waldron a key influence in her ongoing development as an artist.
Craig Nelson, department head at the Academy of Art, had asked her several times if she was interested in teaching, but she was raising two young boys.
In 2009 she finally said yes.
“My first assignment was to teach still life online. Still life is a lot about composition, and like in the ads, about creating an illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface. I liked teaching online, but I really liked teaching onsite because you can interact with the students, and you can see when they get it.” She taught two to four days per week depending on enrollment, commuting from her home in Moraga.
When the Academy switched to Zoom classes at the outset of the pandemic, she found herself teaching students who were watching on their cell phones. “As a teacher, it was really hard, trying to do a gentle critique and connect with the students. There’s none of that immediate feedback, communication, or jokes, the things that you build up in a classroom to create a learning environment.” She taught until 2021.
Suzanne’s upcoming exhibition will include a series of paintings started before COVID and completed within the last year.
“What works best for me is to work on a painting, and then put it away for a little while. When I pull it out later, I can see what changes are needed.” She describes her art with the voice of an experienced teacher. “The things I’m interested in are atmosphere that creates a mood, really strong design, and color. In the last several years, I’ve gotten more interested in color, color harmony, and color mutes … and how to make color so quiet and suggestive that you don’t really know that it’s creating a mood in you. Color straight from the tube is the most saturated you can get. But if you mix complementary colors, each fifty percent, beautiful, muted colors come out.
“Generally, what I’m looking for is a painting that’s animated, that has a sparkle to it, something that reaches out and subconsciously touches the viewer. I throw away a lot of paintings,” she laughs. “But that’s my goal.”
Featured image: Green Fields in Upper Brittany
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