Susan Dansereau and the Art of Discomfort

A local artist talks about processing life through painting


Mountains hide in the depths of her oil paint ocean. A structured outline on canvas forms peaks and valleys of various shades, yet these colored cliffs will soon be softened to represent Newport’s surrounding briny expanse. “Right now I’m trying to play around with pushing the atmosphere of a hard line because I’ve never done that before,” says Susan Dansereau in reference to the aforementioned seascapes. “For me, drawing something that looks like a photograph is pointless because it’s just technique and no longer interesting. Composition is interesting, getting to a different idea is interesting.”

Drawing creativity from discomfort is the foundation for much of Susan’s work, as she often creates to explore ideas and emotions that cause her unease.

“Sometimes it’s just a feeling – fear is a big one,” she ponders.

In her Fox Point studio she shows me a Madonna that was painted as a reaction to certain childhood experiences. “I grew up in a different world than the one I’m in now. I’ve done a lot of processing and that’s a big part of my work. I don’t see a finished painting in my head, I see pieces of an idea. So painting is how you figure it out. It’s like a dialogue; if you’re paying attention and you don’t already have a specific thing in mind then you are open to learning something new.”

Susan is a Warwick native who always knew she wanted to paint, but because of a strict religious upbringing her creative passions were kept private. “I knew I wanted to go to college for painting even though I had never picked up a paintbrush in my life,” she explains over our shared meal of North’s spicy sesame noodles. “It’s just one of those things I knew I had to do. I think I told everyone I was going for architecture because it’s an easier sell.”

At Rhode Island College, Susan discovered the joys of artistic creation, and while her main focus was painting, she made full use of the institution’s class catalogue by exposing herself to that which was often prohibited in her adolescence. Very soon after graduation, Susan sold her first piece – a portrait from her thesis collection – to Berge Ara Zobian of Gallery Z. Now, as well as painting professionally, Susan works at local interior design firm Morris Nathanson Design (MND).

“Working at MND is fascinating because interior design is like visual problem solving,” she explains. “We often start with bits of information, like the front door goes here, the kitchen will be small, etc. Then you start thinking about the people who are using the space, what are they selling, who is coming in – and all of these intents inform your decisions.”

While interior design is very representational, Susan’s artistic aesthetic is often described as abstract. “I’m really fascinated with composition and I like how things can look monumental. [For my college thesis] I was interested in making portraits look monumental by playing with perspective and light,” she reflects. “I was fascinated by the idea of being able to figure out how light works. If I’m drawing this imaginary scene how do I make it so that all the light is coming from the right source?”

Currently, Susan is exposing herself to the business side of the art world through her involvement in the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative. She also recently engaged in a workshop run by Anthony Tomaselli of T’s Restaurant and last year she sold every piece from a collection that was featured at L’Artisan Cafe. Right now her work can be seen as part of the Art League of Rhode Island’s Prospectus Show, on display at The Warwick Museum of Art through April 8.

In the near future, Susan hopes to craft a series that is quite unlike any of her previous creative endeavors. “It’s funny because it’s outside of my wheelhouse, which of course is where everything interesting happens,” she laughs. “I want to make these busts of women – I’m very interested in what’s going on in other countries right now, especially places where women are oppressed, and I have this idea to mount these busts of women like how hunters mount animal heads. I don’t know why – why it makes me so uncomfortable – but I want to poke at this thing. I want to make those busts.”

Susan Dansereau
200 Allens Ave, Studio 8D

Susan Dansereau, The Warwick Museum of Art, painting, art, providence, nellie de goguel, Morris Nathanson Design, Gallery Z, rhode island college,


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