Susan Wahlrab’s mixed media art merges her own mindful practices with nature’s transcendent energy
My grandmother shared with me a long time ago that from my very early childhood, when coming home from any event out in the world, I would go to my desk that had a large chalkboard on top and draw my interpretation of what I had experienced. I also remember I told my mother that I could see air, which completely freaked her out.
I realize now what I was seeing — and continue to see — is energy.
I have always been driven by a passion to describe visually what I see. My parents divorced when I was only 8, at a time when not many families were split. It was messy and confusing. My mother moved us from the east coast, where my father lived, to California. I can see now that creating images was once again my way of integrating as best I could. I would drop into the world of nature where I felt supported and included. As I went back and forth from coast to coast, the variety of oceans, mountains and forests were my safe places and sources of inspiration.
I left home at 17 and found my way to art school (Swain School of Design) and then graduate school (Rhode Island School of Design) where I discovered my love for teaching. Anytime I have found something that inspires me, I just can’t wait to share it. Of course, the best way to go deeper is to teach someone else. After graduating, I continued to teach. The world of academia can be very stressful which led me to my first yoga class. My students started noticing a difference and said, “We don’t know what you are doing —but please share it!” I was the gallery director, so we started meeting for yoga classes in the gallery surrounded by art. I shared the body, mind, and spirit integration I was incorporating into my life.
Fast forward. I landed in Vermont where I have continued to teach yoga for 30 years. The teaching is informed by the practice of coming to my mat everyday. It’s an investigation from deep within, inspired by the forest that surrounds my home. I then drop into the stillness of meditation to integrate a very busy life of family, community, and my professional world.
With this foundation, the day in the studio begins.
Close observation of color, texture, shape and energy throughout each seasonal change of the land around me is my way to connect to the complexity of the natural world.
My challenge is to develop a new way to use materials to describe walking between a sense of place and energy that has no form. I have moved from printmaking in all its traditional and experimental techniques, to layering watercolor on paper, and finally to a unique approach of varnished watercolor on archival claybord. Every person who has seen them in the flesh exclaims that they have never seen anything like it.
A lifetime of noticing more and more nuance and sensitivity to what is often missed in day-to-day life is woven into every painting. It entails a sometimes maddening process of attempting to tangibly describe this spirit that continually moves between dimensions of matter and energy. It’s a process of living, breathing and reflecting on life within and where everything interconnects. As Einstein said: “Look into Nature and you will understand everything”.
Last year was one of the most transformative years of my life. It began with traveling to the jungles of Ecuador guided by my friend and teacher, Rocio Alarcon, into even deeper merging with spirit. This experience, that there are no words for, has led me to a whole new chapter.
A lifetime of infusing with the natural world dropped me into universal consciousness and inspired a big ‘A-Ha’ realization: All of nature is represented in a flower!
Flowers are pure potential energy and healing. There certainly is abundant literature, folklore, and symbolism related to flowers — way too much to go into here, and I am sure you have your own connection and stories. I will say that even those living in a concrete space, in a high-rise, in a busy city, will most likely have flowers in their lives. Nature drawn to nature — because we ARE nature.
These paintings are my very first exploration into the layers of the radiance of ‘everything’. They are not a fast read. As in spending time in the company of nature, the more you look, listen, and feel, the more you will understand. Those who own my paintings have said they notice something different everyday. Hopefully a healing experience for anyone able to stop for a quiet moment in our fast paced external world.
View the Gallery: Click thumbnails to enlarge