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Beneath the Surface

It was even more than I expected.

I have always been captured by Suzy Schultz’s artwork. Her incredible artistic gifts, and the work she has done to develop them, have grown her into an artist whose abilities express the essence of the souls she is painting. They are not models, either. They are neighbors and friends of hers that she has painted over the years as she has come to know them in their various lives. Through their faces and movements that Suzy captures on her canvas, her subjects’ longings and depths of the human spirit reflect a bit of ourselves (though we may not give ourselves freedom to express them…).

So, I was intrigued to photograph Suzy in the midst of creating her largest piece yet…a mural for the Westside Trail of the Atlanta Beltline: “The Singer.”

Once again, I was captured. It was incredible. Were it not for the cars going by on the overpass, I might have been able to actually hear the depths of the man in the painting, singing.

Then there were the brush strokes I watched Suzy make, bringing the piece to life on that graffiti-laden piece of arched concrete. Small sections of strokes to bring out a specific depth of color. Then I remembered her artist statement:

“There is a first innocence: a beauty that is young, unmarred, untested.

“There is a second innocence – one in which the beauty is a result of the scars borne of the battles of life. I am interested in this second innocence.

“I work the surface. I sand, layer, and scar, wanting to reproduce a piece that has a patina of age, and it is out of these surfaces that figures emerge. I seek figures, faces that seem to be familiar with the tensions of life. That bear some battle scars. And yet, have victory, even if a crippled or limping one.”

And there Suzy was…bringing out the dirt and time worn in that concrete as she brushed the paint across the surface. It was beautiful in its simplicity of movement: rhythmic strokes, small sections, dip the brush, more strokes, move the cherry-picker, and again. Yet I knew for its scale it was far more than the movements and brush dips into paint before my eyes. I really can’t imagine how one undertakes that, and with such incredible artistry emerging.

That was plenty in itself. Then Suzy invited me up into the cherry-picker. We went up high – saw the painting up close, saw the upper branches of the nearby trees, saw it all from a different perspective in this very different studio in which to work.

Then, the colors.

I didn’t expect them.

I know that all colors are made out of primary colors, but had you asked me, I would have assumed that Suzy’s palette would be various shades of browns and greys, a bit of white, some black for depth, and perhaps some pinks, based on the mural before me.

But when I went to take a perspective shot, what I saw was this:

Bright, brilliant colors.

Then, I saw it as a whole. Colors, mixed with the layered and scarred. An artistic creation showing the depth of a soul, the layers of a life, the story of a person…a beauty that is a result of the scars borne of the battles of life.


(This post appeared in The Streets Magazine, Collection 2017)

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