CIA grad Suzanne Head on a mission to draw from the soul
It’s fun to hear artist Suzanne Head talk about her younger self. Poised and thoughtful, Head is a newly minted graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art with a plan for making her life as a fine artist. She spends weeks on exquisitely rendered drawings of animals or the female form, or some combination of the two. And with her long brown hair and refined features, she resembles Katharine Ross from the days of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
But back in high school? Another story. Back then she wore a half-shaved head and multiple facial piercings, and she boiled with teen angst and anger. Fortunately, she enrolled in Advanced Placement Art, where she rediscovered a love of drawing.
“I did a series of all naked women with teddy bear heads. That’s all I did,” Head says with a little laugh. “They meant so much to me. Some people kinda got it, some people just thought it was weird. But for me, it was expressing all these insane emotions I had absolutely no idea how to explain.”
Her course was set. “I was going to be an artist after that,” she says.
Today, Head is ready for the next steps along the path. This spring, she earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in Drawing at CIA. This summer, she’ll share a studio space in Cleveland, make more work, and take classes at Anderson Ranch Art Center in Colorado.
“I want to fiddle with sculpture, not because I have any intention of not drawing anymore, but because I’ve got a lot of stuff in my head that combines sculpture with drawing,” she says. “I have the opportunity to learn about new materials at the moment, so I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Head works like a woman on a mission. CIA Glass department chair Marc Petrovic remembers seeing Her drawings for the first time more than a year ago.
“I was struck by her extraordinary skill,” he says. “Her drawings were ambitious, well composed and extremely well executed. It was clear that she was not afraid to invest time and herself into her work.”
Head recalls Petrovic suggesting she could make drawings with glass — a suggestion she didn’t know what to make of at the time. Petrovic explains: “I saw a similarity in her drawings to the work of Judith Schaechter. Judith is an artist who works in glass and likes to juxtapose skilled renditions of distorted reality within fields of repetitive pattern. I was hoping I could entice [Suzanne] into creating some of her images in glass.”
That hasn’t happened, but you never know. Head’s approach to media is that she’ll learn what she needs in order to execute an idea.
The body of work she presented for her senior thesis included a clay sculpture of a young lion with glass dandelion seed heads sprouting from its skull. She went to Petrovic when she needed to learn to form the glass. There’s also a large-scale drawing of two wild-eyed horses, manes whipping, with female figures draped over their backs. The piece is rendered on laser-cut plywood stacked in layers on a backboard. Head taught herself to use the computer-powered laser cutter at the Case Western Reserve University think[box] to make the intricate woodcuts.
Concepts drive her work. Head began college as an illustration major, but decided pretty quickly that she was more interested in working her own ideas than an art director’s. With her horse drawings, for instance, “I’m trying to think about aspects of human nature that might not apply to the consciousness of an animal. I’m using the horse as a symbol. They’re vulnerable. They’re hooved, they’re prey — herd animals. But then as a rider, they’re extremely powerful. Where is the authority, and who really has that? I have this experience of holding onto something, and there’s this struggle – I’m holding on, but who’s really in control?”
It’s a relationship Head understands. For years, she competed in rodeo barrel racing, a sport in which a rider races a timer as she and her quarter horse loop around three barrels in a ring.
“It’s so fast,” she says. “You’re looking at between 14 and 16 seconds. My first horse really didn’t like going through the chute. You’ll see race horses get led into those boxes and freak out. Same thing. So I’m getting on a nervous horse, and she’d rear up so high and kind of lose herself, and we’d fall backwards. And this is just getting in the pen.”
Once in the chute, Head says, “it’s like, OK, let’s think about what we’re going to do for the next 16 seconds. It was really crazy, because I spend like a month on something like this” — Head points to a large drawing of fawns she’s been rendering in colored pencil — “and I have so much time to process it.”
Racing held an adrenalin-rush kind of pleasure for her (not a total surprise, since her dad is funny-car racer Jim Head), but eventually she had to quit. She needed to invest in her art.
“I spend almost all my time [drawing],” she says. “I’ll take breaks to eat and I’ll try to watch a TV show when I eat. I try to give myself a little time to write and play guitar. And that’s my day,” she says. “I like routines.”
Routines fuel focus, and her focus now is to “make work out of my own ideas and sell it,” she says. “That’s so much to ask, for me anyway. But I don’t need a lot.”
Success, she says, will be a matter of earning enough from her art so she can “eat and sleep and shower, and make work — and be around good people.”
See more of Head’s work at suzannehead.com
Cleveland Institute of Art
11610 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44106
Photos: You’ll get four photos with this package. Three of them are Suzanne with artwork of some sort. The fourth is a picture of her riding her horse. Not sure what you’ll have room for, but we would like the horse-riding shot to a) definitely be included but also b) definitely be small and/distinctly subordinate to the art photos. Thanks!
Photo credits for all the art shots: Rob Muller/CIA
Photo credit for horse shot: Courtesy Suzanne Head