An Interview With Scripps Senior Suzanne Calkins

By Tiffany Yau ‘12Arts & Entertainment Editor

Suzanne Calkins (‘11) talks about her roots, her work and what it’s like to be a Scripps art major. Her senior thesis, “Vespertine,” will be on display in the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery through May 15.

Tiffany Yau: How did you become an art major? Did you know you would pursue an art major, or did you fall into it?

Suzanne Calkins: I have been consistently involved in art for as long as I can remember. But being as indecisive as I am, I was not sure when coming into Scripps if I wanted to be an art major. I was also interested in biology, psychology, philosophy, writing. Scripps ended up being a great fit for me because I could still pursue all those interests while taking art classes. After trying a little bit of everything, I realized that art really was what made me the happiest (and I still had room to take classes in other subjects). So I decided to ignore the “So what do you do with an art major?” question and officially became an art major!

TY: Can you talk about the theme of your paintings and where the subject of your works came from?

SC: In my series of drawings and paintings, I have been exploring the theme of wandering in solitude through ambiguous landscapes of darkness. I am interested in how landscapes can serve as introverted portraits of an emotional or psychological space that slips between dreams and memories. The images fluctuate between abstract and figurative forms, creating familiar scenes that are not quite grounded in reality. I named the series “Vespertine,” which is derived from the Latin word vesper, meaning evening. It is a term used to refer to something of, relating to, or occurring at night.

It is difficult to say exactly where all of this came from. I guess it’s a combination of reoccurring themes that I have been obsessed with over the past several years. They are based in traditionally “romantic” themes of isolation in beautiful (and threatening) landscapes. I became interested in Romanic landscape painting because while it is seen largely as a worn out cliche, there are plenty of contemporary artists who still borrow from this tradition.

The images themselves are mostly based off of photographs I have taken or are painted from memory. I spent the Spring of last year living in a town of 200 people in rural Ireland. My walk to and from school was a 40 minute hike through fields, over stone walls, and through a few patches of woods. There were no streetlights or anything. Quite a few times I would end up staying in my studio at school really late at night and would realize I had forgotten my flashlight. So I would use the light of my cell phone to stumble home. We’re not used to walking alone in complete darkness anymore (at least I wasn’t, having lived in the Los Angeles area my whole life). On one hand darkness is a very mundane thing, it happens every day. But on the other hand, darkness has the power to transform the most familiar places into the strange. The psychological experience of being literally in the middle of nowhere trying to find your way home in a landscape so dark is really fascinating to me.

TY: What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?

SC: Painting and drawing never get boring for me. I get bogged down sometimes, but usually something as simple as good music fixes that. I always have to listen to music when I paint or draw. Everything I have made this year has a very specific soundtrack attached to it. I also obsessively collect images I come across that I like, both through my own photography and other artists. I cover all walls available to me in them. When I need inspiration I usually just look over all of them and do some sketches.

TY: Any words of advice for aspiring artists/art majors?

SC: Do it! Do not be intimidated by questions of practicality. There are so many answers to, “What do you do with an art major?” Clearly I am biased, but I think Studio Art is one of the best majors because it is so flexible. You can combine art with any subject, that’s what is so great about it.