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Artist’s Statement, or Why Do I Do This Anyway?

by Sue Oakes

Life is like a book pressed up against the nose. It is not easily recognized or understood at close range, (especially at my age!) But when viewed from a distance, it becomes focused and clear. One of the advantages of having this distance or perspective, (read age, experience) is the understanding that our experience not only reveals where we have been but also where we are going. Looking back, I have always been artistic, but I had to travel a long and challenging road before I came to believe in myself.

I have explored many paths to develop my talents and increase my marketability (a retailing management career, graduate courses in Business, a Graphic Design Program); in addition to my springboard of a B.A. in Psychology in a past life. Although my road has taken many twists and turns, it might just be the journey itself that defines and transforms us, rather than the destination. Along the way, I have been influenced by family and friends, my immersion in such community groups as The Mothers’ Center and my children’s school, whose volunteer programs take on a life of their own; and my seemingly unending pursuit of the academic life, both as a degree earning and non-matriculated student. Recent twists in the road include a degree in Graphic Design from Briarcliffe College some years ago, and a position as an adjunct instructor in Graphic Design, as well as additional non-credit courses in art, just because.

I have combined this pursuit with a marriage of 34 years to Ken, who has supported me through all my meanderings, doubts and triumphs, and my two bright and wonderful kids, Jeff and Cindy, who unfortunately have a geek for a mother. As an outgrowth of my need for expression, I have embraced the computer and it’s nether world of cyberspace as a new tool in my collection. For this new passion, I often suffer persecution and ridicule. (My kids make make fun of my geekdom; and my husband, while in awe of the progress I have made in learning a new field along with my zeal to understand its technology, has absolutely no desire to comprehend what the hell it is that I do.

Apparently, I have the ability to totally focus my attention on the task at hand to the exclusion of virtually everything else. In some lines of work, this could be deadly, but for this field it is adaptive. Although I have been doing artwork all my life, the advent of the computer forces one to learn to draw all over again. (And I have discovered a new talent; I am good at tedium.) I don’t know if I had the capacity to do this when I was younger, but now, when I am in The Zone (to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King), it is very hard to get my attention.

My office is on the second floor of our house, and occasionally, when I am working, I will raise my head with the sudden realization, “What’s that smell?” Then I realize in horror, “Oh, it’s dinner, and it’s burning!!” This has happened more times than I care to admit. My neighbor, seeing how deep into The Zone I sometimes go, has predicted that someday soon, my son will be sneaking girls into his room while reassuring them, “It’s OK, my mother’s on the computer.”

I’d like to thank my family for tolerating my artistic quirks, as this has enabled me to work on my own terms. Rather than take the easy way out and look for an entry level graphic design job, this time around, I wanted to have some control (or the illusion of control) over my life and time. I set out as an independent, forming a business and then incorporating it. Again, along the way, I have been enriched and nurtured by many people and groups. As this is a field which requires constant retooling and reinventing of the self, it is the people who touch us who ultimately enable us to do just that.

I am primarily a visual person, and am always stewing a cauldron of images and ideas which have yet to take form. Sometimes these images, like demons, will bubble around in the stew for a while, only to tantalizingly submerge themselves and resurface again when something jogs the memory. Sometimes these ideas take on flesh and a consciousness of their own and resurface one day, demanding release from me.

That was the case for my trilogy of images to memorialize the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Artists have always been a mirror of the cultures in which they live, and through their work, they express society’s pain, yearnings and triumphs. As we try to come to grips with the unspeakable horror of the terrorists attacks of September Eleventh, these original illustrations reflect the outpouring of grief, loss and the ultimate strength and resilience of our nation. These images had their beginnings in personal angst (I’m an artist and that’s one of the requirements). After the shock and horror of these events, they emerged from the “stew”, demanding their deliverance. They are the visual expression of my own feelings to this tragedy and I believe they serve to express what we’ve all been feeling as we come to the reality that our world has changed forever.


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