Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Susie Makes it Happen

Susie Makes it Happen by Judy Takács
Susie paints in oils, pastels and watercolor. She is a sought after calligrapher. She teaches art and she can paint everything…not just people like I do, but places and things too. ( She is an inquisitive seeker of knowledge, can and will talk to anyone and will actually listen your ear off. She will seek out what is fascinating about you and make a new friend in the time it takes to drink a glass of wine. An involved and caring wife and mother of adult children, Susie is also very much part of the lives of her active and elderly parents. 

Susie is also a breast cancer survivor, but she will tell you it does not define her. She will, however, happily talk about it to inspire and help others, and she has created self portraits during her treatments and also painted fellow cancer patients. This compelling and passionate series is called, “You’re Not Your Hair, A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Story” and was shown at a local cancer support center as well as at several local galleries. 

I asked Susie about posing for Chicks with Balls when I got her alone after a weekend of painting (and bonding) in Chautauqua with some female artist friends. 

While we were with the group during the art retreat weekend I really wanted to come forward and tell people about the Chicks with Balls project I was secretly brewing. We were constantly bouncing ideas and techniques, philosophies and theories off each other.

What kept me from talking is that I really don’t like to talk about art in a group setting without having the actual art to show. I find it very raw and vulnerable to hear an artist explain their art verbally. It’s like describing an intimate dream that has shaken you to your core, but saying it out loud makes it seem silly and trivial. (“You were ‘you’ but you weren’t ‘you’ and then this whale came splashing out of the water and there was banjo music and Tom Cruise was there…” you get the idea. It doesn’t make sense in the light of day. And neither does art when it’s just explained without being seen.)

So I kept quiet.

I also preferred to ask people to pose one on one instead of just throwing it out there as a general invitation. It’s really more like asking someone out on a date…you don’t walk up to a group of guys in a bar and say, “Hey guys…I’m looking for a date… any takers?”. What if everyone says yes? What if no one does…either way it isn't good.

And, without visual aids, the words I use…“posing nude, topless, holding balls, picking balls”… seem somehow funny to say, and I hated the possibility that it would become a joke before it became something serious. Now, a few years later I am much less sensitive about it and will happily joke or hold serious discussions about it…anything to get the party started. Back then, however, it was a very young idea and I needed to grow into it and to own it…and to figure out what exactly it was that I owned. So I kept it private.

Later though, over a glass of wine at her house, I told Susie there was a project that I wanted her to pose for, but she'd have to come over and see it…and I would tell her nothing more.

And so after the second glass of wine she said, “Aww c’mon…tell me about it”, and of course I did. I don’t remember the words I used exactly, but I had started to develop a monologue that my husband later came to call the “Sales Pitch”. And Susie “got it” and, being game for an adventure agreed right away. Yeah! 

A week or so later, she came to the studio to pose for Chicks with Balls.

Susie chose the balls, the pose and even the date for several reasons…she saw the two small balls as her two now adult children. The large red one symbolized her husband, the love of her life. Susie's jewelry was carefully chosen too; her wedding and engagement rings figured prominently. And, the balls on her necklace were chosen as a design element to echo the balls she would be holding…ever the considerate artist, Susie thought of the painting I would be creating and wanted to give me fun elements to work with.

Fortunately for Susie, her past breast cancer involved a lumpectomy and not a complete mastectomy. She chose not to show the scar left after her cancer…like she said, it doesn’t define her. It was something that happened, something she courageously fought but many years of life-defining experiences have happened since the cancer too.

It is notable that the day she posed also happened to be the 8 year anniversary of being cancer free. Thus the big subtle 8 that also resembles a breast cancer ribbon is her shadow. I love when life unfolds around art…and I love when these Chicks with Balls paintings become part of the story they are telling.