Susan Smith Evans 1948-2017

interview & portrait by Jorge Perezchica

“My artwork is based on observations of nature. Even though our Western culture tends to treat nature as something to be controlled, and we are obsessed with the perfection of what is on the outside–the surface–my observations tell me that nature is complex and dynamic, composed of many layers. At any one time there is life and death, destruction and creation, old and new,” states Susan Smith Evans on her website.  Susan Smith Evans passed away on March 6th, 2017 in an accident at her home, she was 68 years old.

In my youth, after graduating from high school, I enrolled in various art classes at College of the Desert. Like many young artists, I was trying to find my way in life. One teacher that stood out and I had the privilege to know was Susan Smith Evans. I recall taking classes with instructor Evans from life drawing, to black and white photography and printmaking.

After graduating from college, I would often find Susan Smith Evans involved in community arts shows, events and projects. It was clear that art wasn’t just a career for Susan Smith Evans — it was a passion and a way of life. Susan was an adjunct art and photography instructor for 24years, was named Outstanding Adjunct Faculty of the Year in 2001 and retired as Adjunct Professor Emeritus, Art in 2011.

On September 2016, The Palm Desert community gallery featured artwork from Susan Smith Evans in its exhibition, Touching Nature: Images of Hands. During the artist reception, I interviewed Susan Smith Evans about her exhibition, her experience as a teacher and more.

Jorge: Can you tell us a little about your exhibition “Touching Nature: Images of Hands.”

Susan Smith Evans: Sure. The show is a retrospective done over a 45 year period and this is a theme that I’ve gone back and forth to for over 45 years. For me the hand represents the way that we interact with nature and the external world. Also as an artist my hands are very important to me for the work that I do.

Jorge: How did you link up with the Palm Desert Community Gallery?

Susan Smith Evans: I applied for a show, they do I think five or six shows a year. It’s open for application for any local artist that’s not affiliated with the gallery. I applied and proposed this theme of hands and they picked me to have this one person show.

Jorge: You’re also a local retired art teacher right?

Susan Smith Evans: That’s right. Yes, I was at College of the Desert for 24 years. I retired in 2011 and since then I’ve had more time to work on my own artwork.

Jorge: What would you say was the high point in your teaching career. What were the ups and downs of that?

Susan Smith Evans: Well I enjoyed working with the students and I really liked the community college because of the different ages of the students, the different backgrounds of the students. It was just a wonderful mix of people and I learned a lot from the students.

Jorge: What would you say was the biggest challenge for you?

Susan Smith Evans: Well the challenges I think…

Jorge: Or is there anything you know, that you would do differently?

Susan Smith Evans: No, I enjoyed my career. I thought that the most difficult part was dealing with the administration and the politics and the budget… You know the arts are always underfunded, people don’t see the value in creativity.

Jorge: Do you think there will be changes or improvements because they (College of the Desert) have new art building and things now…

Susan Smith Evans: I’m not really thrilled with the new building. I think … From what I can see the rooms are kind of small and the acoustics are bad, but people carry on.

Jorge: After your 24 years of teaching — what advice do you have to an emerging artist?

Susan Smith Evans: Always do work that’s important to you! Different artistic styles come and go but do what’s important to you and work that you believe in.

Jorge: Can you tell us a little bit about one of these pieces that maybe resonates to you? Is there one in particular you gravitate to the most… Or can talk about a little bit about the media because some of them are acrylic or oil or print making.

Susan Smith Evans: This one is an oil painting of my grandparents. They were farmers in Kansas, I included them because they worked really hard with their hands. The background is more of a symbolic thing rather than meant to be a realistic background of Kansas. They had a hard struggle, working many many years. In this show there’s print making, there’s drawing, there’s mixed media…

Jorge: Some of these go all the way to the seventies right?

Susan Smith Evans: Oh yeah. Oh yeah college. College when I was a student.

Jorge: What do you think about photography now compared to 30, 40 years ago? Because now we have digital photography and social media and things like that?

Susan Smith Evans: Well there’s a lot of images out there, it’s just overwhelming. It’s sometimes intimidating to look at all of the really good stuff that’s out there and the stuff that isn’t but again if you stick with your own vision and continue that you will feel satisfied.

Jorge: What about the ones with the moths?

Susan Smith Evans: Well I used to collect butterflies and sometimes moths when I was a child. I think they’re really kind of magical looking creatures and so I often … I use insects in my work a lot.

Jorge: What are you currently working on now? Is there a project that you have on the horizon?

Susan Smith Evans: I still enjoy teaching. I’m doing another project with the city here where I worked with children to create some artwork that’s going to be printed on vinyl and wrapped on those signal cabinets outside of a local school. The kids school. So that’s an excellent example of a blend between traditional media, painting and technology, because after the kids made their paintings then I took those images and collaged them into a digital format. They’re going to be printed by a company on vinyl and they’re going to wrap it around the boxes.

Jorge: What do you do to keep yourself inspired now that you’re retired? Do you consider yourself retired?

Susan Smith Evans: Oh no, I keep working. I keep working. You know we live on three acres so I’m always outside, always looking at nature. I’m often doing my own gardening, yard work, racking. I have a little commission to do of somebody that is… She wants a portrait, so I’m going to help her out.

Jorge: Where can people find your work?

Susan Smith Evans: Susansmithevans.com

Jorge: Thank you very much for your time.

Susan Smith Evans: Oh okay. Well that’s a wonderful interview, thank you.