Artist Interview: Susan Wickstrand

Susan Wickstrand is a San Diego based artist who has developed a style of her own by combining images, textures, color, and a whole lot of creativity. Using wax or encaustic technique to create her collages, each piece is comprised of layers combined to tell a story for the viewer to uncover and “dream into”.  Her list of collaborators includes some of surfing’s masters of photography including Jeff Divine and Art Brewer and she has had her work on the walls in the popular TV shows “Modern Family” and “Parenthood”. Teaming up with her talented husband, photographer Kevin Roche, Susan has found a great balance to her creative talents.

Susan in Buzios, Brazil photo: Kevin Roche

What’s your background in the art world? How did you get started in painting, art, and collage work?

I was a business major in college at USC, doing well, but bored out of my mind so by Sophomore year I decided to switch to and art degree. I wanted to be an artist like my grandmother was. I have a bachelor’s degree in fine art/studio art from USC, and through college I got my first internship at Motown Records in their art department helping design album covers (a job that later helped me with the collage process). My Junior year I moved to Florence, Italy to study art with Syracuse University abroad. My first job out of college was as assistant curator for, Jack Rutgerg Fine Arts on La Brea in L.A. It’s still there to this day and remains a blue chip level art gallery. That job is where I watched mid to latter career artists making an amazing living from their craft. Through that job I got to meet the likes of David Hockney, Eric Fischl, Darren Watterston, Hans Burkhardt, Mark Tansey, Dennis Hopper and many others. I figured if someone else can make a living as an artist than I could too, it could be done and I was determined.

Collage seeped back into my work after many decades & paintings. I learned the technique of encaustic (wax) when I saw a show at Scott White Gallery in La Jolla of Hiro Yokose’s work that had a gorgeous ethereal layer of wax atop a stunning seascape. Instantly that wax layer reminded me of the often gray, foggy a.m.’s we had in La Jolla where I grew up. I went back to Scott White gallery and asked to see the work of Yokose’s up close then I did research and flew to San Francisco to take classes from a visiting teacher out of New York in Encaustic. I had to find out how to add this missing ingredient to my seascape paintings. The first collage series were personal work taken from photographs, post cards from swap meets gathered in Paris & on travels, postage stamps, match book covers. As Art Brewer says things you naturally do as a child, collaging pieces together. This personal work was well received and often sold from the walls of my own home vs. a gallery at 1st.

Susan Wickstrand, “Twilight, North County” 2010, Oil on Canvas, 5′ x 4′

Your “collage” work is very unique. How would YOU describe the art that you do? What is your process? Is this something your taught yourself? How long does the typical piece take you to create?

The collage work is purely intuitive & just flows out of me with great tunes blasting and a cup of coffee by my side. After learning how to add wax atop my oil paintings I also was taught how to add wax to anything paper based, so for fun when learning I’d wax some photos I had and tore up some receipts from travel, match books, incense boxes etc. I’d put these artworks up in my studio “just for fun” and when clients would visit to commission me for paintings they’d say, “wait a minute, whose work is this? I’ve never seen anything like this?” So I started selling the collages from the studio walls to clients and thought those were so fun to make, maybe I should make some more. A traditional oil painting can take up 1-6 months depending upon size, where as the collages take a couple of weeks to produce with layers of painting, photos, more painting, multiple layers of images then the final coat of wax.

Susan Wickstrand, “She’s Got A Way About Her”, Oil, Collage & Encaustic on Wood Panel

What do you strive to portray in your artwork? What do you hope that people get from your art?

A love of nature, a joy one gets from travel, a love of being outside, and a celebration of different people and diverse cultures.

There’s so much negativity sometimes in the world that I want my artwork to be the ultimate escape. Something the viewer can dream into.

I want people to take a couple of minutes to look for the hidden messages in the collages & the secret layers of meaning…it’s in there buried deeply sometimes but even the title of the artwork can be a leading clue into what’s going on. To trip out & see what I mean click here. I think the simplest looking artworks can have the most profound meaning.

Susan Wickstrand, “Water Dance”, Oil, Collage & Encaustic on Wood Panel

Obviously whomever is viewing your art gets to see some gorgeous imagery and unique style, but what do being an artist do for you?

To me being an artist = freedom & happiness. Everyday I wake up I am one of those people that are annoyingly excited to go to work & start the day. It’s cliche’ but true I am living my dream, and the possibilities of new work to create feels endless to me. I don’t ever want to retire, I want to be able to always be creative.

Susan Wickstrand, “The Journeyman”, 2010, Oil, Collage & Encaustic on Wood Panel, (Chris del Moro image provided by Kevin Roche, shot at Cardiff Reef)

You’ve had your art in some pretty well know places and tv shows. Where would someone recognize your art from?

I have my work in some large public art projects in L.A, I designed two exterior courtyards for MiniMed Corporate Facilities, completed a 20 foot long painting for their theatre lobby entrance, I have a nice sized 12′ high entryway artwork into the Alfred E. Mann foundation in Beverly Hills, CA. I have 3 large artworks up at Copa d’ Oro in Santa Monica, t.v. shows include; Modern Family and Parenthood. Last year I had the honor of collaborating with both Masters of Surf Photography Art Brewer and Jeff Divine. This year I’ll be collaborating with legendary photographer Tom Servais, Todd Glaser and Art Brewer again. Next year Rip Curl has chosen me to be their, 2012 “Artist of the Search”. I’ll have the honor of seeing the original collages I created for Rip Curl on bikini’s, board shorts, T’s, flip flops Globally and now on luggage in Europe. Both Tyler Warren and Heather Brown have had this honor before me. Each article of clothing created with the brand are made from eco friendly material and the hang tags will all have my name and web site on them too so hopefully even more people globally will start to find my work.

Gerry Lopez holding his own Wickstrand print on canvas of “Sleeping on a Honeysuckle” (Lopez image in artwork provided by James Cassimus)

You have a pretty talented family in that your husband is a wonderful photographer. How do you two work together to enhance the creativity and/or inspire each other?

Kevin is an amazingly talented photographer. I honestly couldn’t have married someone whom I didn’t also respect creatively and I am very, very picky visually. I love that Kevin too studied his craft in college and also has been doing it devotedly a long time. He is a stickler for perfection and works very hard at what he does. We both try to stay open to always learning more about our craft every single year, workshops, classes through others we admire & this is a fiber in our marriage where we mutually support one another.

Collaboratively we enjoy bouncing concepts & ideas off of each other. We make a great team and I’m his biggest fan, I feel very blessed to have Kevin in my life. He’s my rock that grounds me and I’m the kite that flies around up in the sky with creative impulses and concepts, then he helps grounds them bringing them into reality for me. We’re yin & yang, balancing each other. He’s encouraged me to work with Brewer, Divine and Servais.

Jeff Divine & Susan Wickstrand holding up, “A Queen’s Catch” at The Surfer’s Journal, waiting for it’s top coat of wax now that Divine has thumb stamped the front of the piece (giving his seal of approval)

What is next for Susan Wickstrand?

I’m currently working with the very talented photographers: Art Brewer, Tom Servais, and young gun Todd Glaser for my next art show I’ll be having with husband, Kevin Roche at Surfindian this Spring. I’m blown away by the images I now will have access to. A+ material from the best in the business. This new show will be groundbreaking for me in many ways. After that I have some more art shows for the year and then the launch of Rip Curl’s 2012 “Artist of the Search” campaign that I can’t wait for. I think I will trip out the day I see some random girl on a beach wearing a bikini with my artwork on it or a girl cruising a bike along the coast wearing a hoodie that has my artwork on it…that will be a career high point for sure. My artwork on eco friendly apparel fits and I applaud such a big brand as Rip Curl for reaching out to artists and collaborating with them. The sky’s the limit really, I’m not going anywhere as I’ve been an artist for over 20 years, and with a brand like Rip Curl now I’ll be going everywhere (globally)! I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t believe in watching people enjoy your art from the grave, I want to share the stoke now while I’m around!

Susan Wickstrand, “Orchid & Bamboo Paradise”, Oil, Collage & Encaustic on Wood Panel



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