Susanna Bluhm is a quaint, queer, award-winning landscape artist based in Seattle.
Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? With what means do you work?
Susanna Bluhm: All my life I’ve been making semi-abstract landscapes with weird things – first, with the pastels on paper my father brought home from work on the linoleum floor in our kitchen; then with the acrylics my uncle artist gave me when I was 15 years old; and now with oil and acrylics. I’ve been working as an artist since my early twenties, so it’s been over 20 years! I am very much a painter.
Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different phases work?
My process usually begins with my experience of a place. I take pictures of places, I think about what I am doing there, I meditate on what that place means to me, I notice what colors and textures I find there and I take stock of what I have brought with me. Then, in my studio, I make a series of paintings loosely based on the photos I took of the place. I focus on the unique color palette and memories. I use the composition of the photos as a starting point and add elements of an abstract personal narrative that weaves through the paintings. Some paintings in the series may look quite faithful to the photos I took, others may look like something completely different. Usually, it is a blend of the two.
Tell us where your inspiration for your art comes from.
My inspiration comes from places and colors and the way each place has its own color palette. I’m generally very influenced by the place; I feel very landscape oriented. I define “landscape” very loosely, to include the Grand Canyon but also the RV parks and lunch. For example, this year I made a large-scale pictorial installation on the new Meta Spring District campus in Bellevue. The installation consists of four 14-foot paintings installed over four floors that tell the story of my experience along the White River from its source on Mount Rainier to where it flows into Puget Sound. The paintings include some recognizable images from trails around the river that rub against abstract shapes. Tongues want to eat the beauty of Mount Rainier, my son’s yellow T-shirt is set in a field of wildflowers, the paisley wallpaper of the Airbnb bathroom we have been in mingles with the trees of the forest.
Do you have a specific “beat” that you like best: nature, food, profiles, etc.?
I love the physicality of painting, the history of painting and I try to do as much as possible within the limits of painting. I am very interested in the meaning we get through the act of looking and what can be conveyed with a visual vocabulary.
Do you have a work of art that means more to you or is it extremely special to you?
A piece of my own art? I don’t think so. Each of them is special, yet I don’t feel like they’re mine anymore once I’m done with them, so I don’t get attached. I have favorites in every series, but they tend not to be everyone else’s favorites; so, sometimes this means I can keep (or borrow) my favorite for a while and hang it in my house.
What experiences in your life have influenced your art the most?
All the places that have been meaningful to me in my life. My grandparents’ home in the Mojave Desert. Annual family trips to Yosemite. Live in a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and water. Being homosexual. Having many life experiences that continually teach me that what is beautiful is not what is perfect.
If we want to see more of your work, where should we go to find it?
You can see more of my work in person at the J. Rinehart Gallery in Pioneer Square, or online at www.jrinehartgallery.com and www.susannabluhm.com.
What’s the next step for you? Anything you are working on right now that you are really excited about?
I am really excited to finish my Red Country project. It is a great project that I started in 2017, where I made paintings based on my experiences in the “red” states. Since experiencing a landscape and painting are both acts of love for me, this project is helping me not to hate my country. In the next year, I hope to finish paintings based on my time in Iowa, Wisconsin, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan, Kentucky, and Montana. I will show them to J. Rinehart in the fall of 2023.
Finally, how do you take your coffee? (We ask everyone!)
I love coffee but it drives me crazy so I enjoy black tea with oat milk or half and half.