Artist is inspired by a lifelong love affair with Galveston
There’s a subtle taunting in the work of Galveston artist Suzanne Peterson. Meandering brush strokes, wispy edges, colors that manage to be both bold and muted at the same time.
Each image is complete, yet compelling in a way that says, “There’s more to this story,” and invites you to create scenarios that meld the artist’s vision with your own.
And each one — whether a still life, a Galveston landmark, a wedding portrait, jaunty jazz musicians or a sun-dappled woman in repose — is tinged with a touch of the sultry, the tropical and with whispers of romance, mystery and whimsy.
Much like Galveston itself.
Peterson absolutely delights in the brilliant, multifaceted gem, lit from within, that is Galveston Island — her muse.
“I see Galveston as a mixture of contrasts,” Peterson said. “There’s this element of surprise here that causes something to be out of place. That surprise either makes me laugh or causes me to think more deeply about what I’m looking at. It’s interesting to live in a place with a huge ethnic mixture, to see all the magnificent and diverse vegetation that thrives here, and to hear the legends and stories that create its unique history.
“There is a huge, winsome spirit that thrives here,” she added. “In all the stories and books and articles I’ve seen, Galveston always makes a comeback. No matter how devastating the storm, people rebuild.”
It’s a spirit that pours as freely from Peterson herself as from the island she loves and embraces so dearly. She tells a story of one unexpected bit of inspiration that took her by surprise one day on her way to the Hotel Galvez.
“Sometimes, I stop in my tracks because of what I’m looking at,” Peterson said. “A short story begging to be preserved in a painting I have been trying to do for some time — I lived on Kempner Street at one time and would enjoy walking over to the Galvez. On the way, there was a house on Avenue P½ where a very huge iguana lived and sat outside on the window sill. The fronds from the palm would touch her face, and she was as long as the window sill itself. I found out her name was Zoe. I was terrified of her, but also intrigued with how she so calmly sat on the window sill watching the passersby.
“I believe this is what I love about Galveston,” Peterson said. “This unusual scene, at least in my opinion, of this gargantuan lizard taking in the breezes. She only lacked lipstick and a cigarette to make her life perfect. One day, I will surely paint her.”
If Peterson’s work seems ethereal, it’s because she intends for it to be “a reflection of ideas, dreams, places,” she said.
“I reveal my heart and my soul in my work,” she said. “The medium, brushwork, colors all work together to tell the story of my life — some of it actual and some of it the things I dream about. I am always trying to reveal the places, people and things I cherish.”
Peterson wants people who see her work to cherish these things, too. She wants to evoke a feeling of kinship, of connection to the joy, the silliness, the sadness or whatever emotion a particular painting exudes, she said. She wants them to “have a tickle in their heart” because of their experience with her work, she said.
For Peterson, art is a “moveable feast,” an expression of what the artist is seeing, feeling, experiencing at any given moment in time, she said.
Peterson was born in Galveston and has traveled extensively, but always returns home. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Texas and a master’s degree in arts and humanities from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
She also studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome and is a veteran arts educator.
“My students have challenged me to explore many different media and techniques including oils, acrylics, watercolor, ink wash, charcoal, pastels, collage, monoprinting, prisma and mixed media, which have all enriched my professional work,” she said.
Ultimately — whether it’s about Sunday dinner at her grandmother’s house, sipping coffee at a Paris café or an iguana named Zoe, whether it’s watercolor or collage or mixed media — Peterson’s art is an extension of her soul and an invitation to the world to share her experiences, she said.
“When something stirs or burns in your spirit — an image, a moment, a memory or even a vignette, you have to have a way to release it,” she said. “That is what art does for me. I believe it is the only thing I know how to do, and it is a God-given gift.”
Tell us, Suzanne …
If your art was a fragrance: “It would smell like Fleur de Rocaille perfume, a wonderful French fragrance that is both feminine and sensual.”
If your art was a food: “It would taste like watermelon because it is tropical, refreshing, has texture, and it’s youthful like summertime.”
If the feeling of your art was something one could touch: “It would feel like linen sheets, which are both soft and yet edgy.”
What is the best thing anyone can say to you about your art? “’I love your work! I have to have it! Wrap it up!’”
And the worst? “’I love your work, but I can’t afford it.’”