Artist Interview: Sumner Crenshaw Deliciously Dark Artwork
Welcome Sumner Crenshaw to my blog. She has shown her work at many galleries. You don't want to miss her tortured but beautiful oil and acrylic paintings. I did this interview with her for The Fine Arts Company and wanted to share it with all of you.
"Often characterized as disturbing, the images I create are at first shocking. But at a second glance, they reveal brokenhearted beings just trying to work through the situation they're in. I don't consider my work to be an assertion of hopelessness. Rather, it is an assertion of tension, depicting another side of life that, while often sorrow-filled, is nonetheless a part of the human experience; a dark realm that, if one can find their way out, leads to better things. The figures in my images just haven't quite found their way out yet."
What made you decide to become an artist?
I suppose it wasn't really a decision on my part. Ever since I was little, I was always drawn to art and I would always say "I'm going to be an artist when I grow up!", so it's honestly never occurred to me to be anything else. I've never considered the idea that art wouldn't be a part of my life
What medium do you paint in and why do you like that medium?
I'm trained in over a dozen different mediums, but I primarily work in oils. I find that oils lend a richness and depth to the image, and they also lend themselves well to experimentation because of their extended oxidizing time.
Your work depicts dark beings trapped in conflicts and tension. It is deliciously dark. What made you gravitate in this direction?
Haha, "deliciously dark"; I like it! I think two things made me gravitate towards images that most would deem dark: first, at a young age I was exposed to the work of the Surrealists, particularly Dali, and so I think that informed my aesthetic early on; imagery that was twisted and exaggerated was planted in my lexicon quite early. I suppose that if I'd looked at books of Monet's images, not Dali's, when I was little my work might have gone a different direction. Secondly, I think my work presents as dark because I am inherently interested in depicting not just different worlds, but the inner worlds of conflict and turmoil that we all have. To me, though, I don't view it as a depiction of something negative or hopeless, but as an expression of tension; a tension that we all feel. We all have anxieties, struggles and inner conflicts- hopes, doubts and regrets- and I'm interested in portraying these in narrative form- opposing feelings are depicted as characters trapped in a scene of conflict. For me, by presenting these struggles as images, it's a way to work through them. It's all about exploring the idea of wanting to be more than what you are, but being uncertain of how to make it happen.
Is your personal view of the world as dark as the images you create?
Haha, I don't think so. I get compared to Phoebe from Friends quite a lot, so I think most people who know me would not characterize me as a dark person. However, I am a restless person, someone who always wants to be growing but constantly feels like I'm not growing fast enough, and I think that restlessness-that tension- informs my world view and my work.
Does your work have any hidden objects or meaning in them?
I imbue hands with a lot of meaning. For me, my hands are my life- the things that allow me to create-so quite often in my work a characters hands are depicted as tortured or tired; I use them to symbolize artistic and creative struggles. I also will twist portions of characters bodies' to illustrate their struggles- maybe their eyes are turned inward, to show their lack of insight, or maybe their feet are stuck together, to show their frustration with their own lack of growth.
Do you find it harder to sell work that is so dark in nature?
It can be a little more challenging, as most people shopping for art to decorate their house understandably don't want a cranky surrealist painting on their walls. However, I do think there is still an audience for that type of work, it's just more of a niche market, so to speak. I'm lucky, though, in that I like to work in a variety of styles, so usually I can offer something that appeals to collectors.
What was the best advice a mentor ever gave you?
I guess this isn't technically advice, but when I was working on my undergrad degree one of my professors said "You're work isn't so much about color or tone as much as it is about the structure of what it is you're painting". I found that observation extremely empowering because it gave me a verbalization of where my work was heading. It's funny, I feel like as artists we always have an inherent, subconscious journey in our work- we are all striving towards an exploration of something- but quite often even we don't necessarily know what that journey is or what our goal is. By making that statement, that professor gave me an idea of what I was really exploring, without me even knowing it. And he was right: I have always been all about form and how far I can exaggerate or deconstruct it. His insight was invaluable as it gave me a sense of myself as an artist.
What was the worst advice you ever received from a mentor, fellow artist, or viewer of your work?
I'm actually pretty lucky in that I don't think I've ever received any bad advice!
When creating your work, do you have a process that you go through?
My process is actually embarrassingly simple! My ideas are actually quite often born from a statement; for instance, I might say to myself "Ugh, I just don't feel creative today! I feel like my creativity decided to take a vacation!" And there it is! The muse deciding to leave the mind of the artist, that can be a compelling image. After I've toyed with an idea, I usually do a sketch, sometimes a few, to nail the composition and jot down a few phrases that illustrate the theme, then I outline it on the canvas, then I paint it. For my more abstract works I rarely even bother with a sketch. From there, I do spend a lot of time just living with the work, taking many chances to just view it while it's in progress, letting it seep into my mind to see what areas make sense and which need work. And then, once every area of the canvas is covered, I'm done. Once in graduate school a professor said that one's process should consist of sketches, quick studies, detailed sketches of light patterns, detailed underpaintings, covering the canvas layer by layer, section by section, and then making a checklist to ensure each area of the image was analyzed for composition, focal point, etc. Truth be told, I thought it was malarkey! Painting is like dancing, the canvas being your partner; you push and pull and move the image until it makes sense. It's intuitive. There is no need for a drawn out process.
What projects are you working on now or have coming up in the future?
I'm working on reopening my Etsy shop, with a focus on selling prints of my original pieces, and I've also got 4 exhibits in the works that'll keep me busy through June of next year!