Arts & Culture

Into the depths of artist's imagination

In the work of Olympia artist Steven Suski, images rise from the depths.

Suski won last year’s Regional Juried Art Exhibit and received as his prize a solo show, opening today at South Puget Sound Community College’s Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts.

The work shown, a mixture of new paintings and retrospective pieces drawn from the past 20 years, reflects a fascination with the body and with the murky depths of the human subconscious.

“I think of these as magical objects,” Suski said. “I’m taking something from my subconscious and bringing it into the light.

“There’s a mystery to it that’s a mystery to me,” he added. “I don’t understand where these images come from. They just come to me.”

Like the paintings that won him the award, “Big Pig” and “The Divers” (formerly called “Underwater Diptych”), the images in the show have the quality of talismans or icons, he said.

“His work had a spark in it, a life in it,” said Olympia artist Shaw Osha, who was on the jury that chose Suski from among 40 competing artists. “His work not only has a formal strength, but there’s a freshness to it.”

Human figures and images set underwater are among the themes of the show, said Suski, who is also a musician, producer of cable-access television shows and the president of the nonprofit Mud Bay Water System.

“Most of the subject matter deals with the human body,” he said. “I’m trying to explore the mystery of what it means to have a body, the bigger realities, the mysteries of life, the joys and the terrors, the good things and the bad things.”

The show is half new works and half retrospective.

The images, mostly rendered in acrylic paint, are heavily textured. Sometimes, those textures are found, as in “The Divers,” painted on a three-dimensional map. Other times, they are created, as in new works Suski painted on collages he made himself that peek out from beneath layers of paint.

“You see one painting, and then you come up close and you see the collage showing through,” he said. “It’s like a whole world in itself if you look at the symbols and the imagery of the collage.”

Texture also comes by happenstance, he said. “I keep the drips in,” he said. “I embrace the accidents.”

Sometimes the meaning a viewer finds in a work is an accident as well. “Underwater Diptych” was often seen by others to depict divers, hence the new title.

“I thought of them as figures underwater,” he said. “People just assumed they were divers because they were upside down.

“The artist’s intention, what they are trying to do, doesn’t always work.”

Indeed, the painter admits he is not always sure what he’s trying to do.

“A lot of times I do a painting, and years later, I’ll look at it and kind of understand what I was trying to convey,” he said. “At the time, you’re a little bit blind to your own motivation.”