Suzy Farren creates art from just about anything - leaves, fabric, pieces of paper, interesting objects she finds in the street. Because for her it’s about finding things that somehow belong together - then arranging them and rearranging them, marking them with paint or ink, chalk or thread - until they combine to complete her vision of what they are meant to be.
“I love scraps. Everything I do has scraps in it.” She spreads out a collage across the table in her studio. “So this is a piece of Japanese fabric. This is fabric I printed. This is an old pharmaceutical prescription. Here’s a scrap of my father’s handwriting.
“I never know how a piece is going to turn out. I never have a finished piece in my mind. I just know that when I add marks and color and pieces of paper, this collage is interesting.“
Farren spent most of her professional life as a writer in the corporate world. And though she still has a love for words and even includes them in her collages and creations, she sees the process of writing and creating her art as essentially different.
“It is the anti-writing. When I’m writing, I’m inside my head, thinking. But when I’m creating something, I’m not thinking. I’m making my marks, I’m making a mess. I’m just putting stuff down. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to have this picture.’”
That word - marks - comes up a lot when she talks about creating art. “I like making marks,” she says, “with a piece of crayon, a piece of chalk, a paint brush, a stitch, whatever.”
It’s as if after working for years with words, she realized that even though they could touch other people, she could never really touch them. But the marks, the fragments and scraps are all tactile - things she can feel.
“Touch is a really important part, whether I’m stitching or doing a piece on canvas. My hands always get really involved. And I especially like working with fibers. I like making books. Books are just so intimate, you hold them in your hand, you touch them.”
Her books have a charm all their own. They are indeed books, - not like any books you’ve ever seen, but wonderful to touch. And playful, as if they invite you to stop thinking and join in the fun.
Farren picks up a piece of fabric bearing bold marks in ink and paint. Glued on the surface is some object - crescent shaped, metal, rusty and jagged. It’s a part of an automobile she found in the street while taking a walk. “And it fits perfectly,” she says. “And this happens all the time. These pieces just show up because you need them.”
It’s funny, she says, how creating art can reveal things about ourselves we would otherwise never discover. She tells the story of how she grew up in New Jersey on 84 acres of farmland where her family lived in an old stone house. She was an only child and there weren’t many kids around, so she spent large parts of her day bouncing a ball against the side of the house.
“And so if you look at my palette, it’s the stone walls of the old house. I’m drawn to certain colors and certain textures. Everything I do is sort of brownish, and it’s the color of stones. I discovered that over the years as I created this work.”
Just a glance around her studio leaves no doubt that she has no shortage of material for future projects. Piles of scraps, found objects, fabric swatches, pieces of this and that. All grist for her creative mill.
Farren warns against “the critic inside our heads”, because, she says, “if we’re not careful it can keep us from being creative. Anything perfect makes me nervous. My marks, my stitches are imperfect - deliberately.
“So maybe these are my stories. These little pieces. They just all tell a story. So these marks, I just love them. It’s intuitive. It’s organic. At this point I don’t know where I want to go with it. I just want to go day by day, doing what I love. I do it because I really have to do it and I love it.”
Visit her at suzyfarren.com
Patrick Murphy has worked in St. Louis radio and television for the past forty years. He has produced a variety of arts-related programs for for St. Louis public television, including the series "Arts America" and "Night at the Symphony". He currently serves on the Webster Groves arts commission and is an aspiring water colorist.