Connecting with the Landscape of the Imagination:
The Art of Suzyn Hutton Kelley by Linda Laino
“Wind From Halla”1.65 X 1.105 M, acrylic on canvas
“Success is the bliss of realizing in the moment your true presence, safety, & connectedness with all that is. “
For Suzyn Hutton Kelley, the sights, sounds and smells of the beach were instilled from birth. Having grown up in the Boca Raton area of Florida, with parents who were “two dreamers”, she was destined to feel a kinship with a watery landscape that permeates many of her paintings today. Even her palette leans towards the blues and greens of the sea. She fondly remembers a house that inspired her to paint. “Paintings were the most amazing form of magic to me as a child. My home growing up, fortunately had many great original paintings from Impressionism to Contemporary Graphic Design. I wanted to be a part of that magic”.
With a mother who was a writer, and a father who was a surfer and a “wicked seascape painter”, her young life was nourished by creative outlets that allowed her to begin to connect her inner and outer world.
She eventually attended The University of Texas for painting, where she met her sculptor husband. They formed Hutton-Kelley studios and moved to Richmond, VA, creating art and a life with 3 children for over 23 years. Richmond has a thriving art community which Kelley wholly embraced by writing grants for nonprofit organizations, special public arts projects, and developing leadership skills in art education. Those were busy years, but as a young mother, she instinctively understood how art could impact tender hearts and minds, and began sharing her love and knowledge of art to diverse groups of people from young men in the prison system to elders in a retirement community.
At a time when life suggested a need for transition, Kelley decided to go back to school and make herself a licensed teacher. Armed with this credential, she taught elementary and middle school art in various schools in Richmond. In 2010, intrigued by the possibilities of global travel, she entered the field of international education and found herself halfway around the world teaching first, in Vietnam and for the last 4 years, in Korea on the island of Jeju-do. Balancing a teaching career with making art has its challenges but after raising 3 children while maintaining her art practice, she comes equipped with the tools to achieve it.
Citing how all life is “delicately woven together”, Kelley’s themes often echo the presence she strives to create in her life. A long time meditation practitioner, she seems to hone in on details that surround her island home. When asked what she is working on right now, she says “wind, water, branches, and roots”. These simple elements become anything but simple in Kelley’s vision. Weaving color with intense light into abstraction, it is easy to see how she melds connectedness and presence in her painting process. Perhaps this accounts for her ease in moving from details to the big picture; from representation to abstraction. While not married to one theme or style of painting, the landscape has always called to her as the fundamental receptacle for her senses. Often working in plein air, she infuses her paintings with what the viewer can’t see, hear or smell-becoming intimate with the landscape. When asked about her creative process, she responds simply, “ Search, explore, find”. This speaks of the confidence to simply allow images to bubble up; everything is worthy of attention, everything contains a secret, it only needs to be discovered with awareness. Indeed, she maintains that “life is in art variously, either by distillation, reaction or fantasy.” Kelley is adept at the art of attention‒and exploration‒as evidenced by such seemingly disparate activities as learning to fly a plane and once meditating in a dark room for 10 days. These activities are the perfect metaphor for her way of life. Flying or sitting in stillness both hold worthwhile lessons that she no doubt brings to the easel.
It is a testament and an homage to art’s magical properties that she has spent a lifetime with paint and palette, even when teaching duties seem to override time spent in front of a canvas. Despite this, teaching has given her life a structure that she seems to need. She insists that while teaching may “rob” an artist of time in the studio, for her, it also supports her‒artistically as well as financially‒and keeps her from becoming too self-indulgent. “Teaching bright young people to be and think creatively reinforces my core beliefs about life and what my (divine) purpose is everyday”
Suzyn Hutton Kelley seems to have known her divine purpose since she was a young girl fascinated with the magic of making a mark on paper. She allows her surroundings to permeate her psyche, where it filters through her experience and senses until it is ready to be realized in color and form. Living on peaceful Jeju-do island not only gives her access to everything her senses and imagination need to translate the landscape of the heart and mind, but also gives her fortunate students the benefit of that magic.
"Blue Presence",76 cm X 61 cm,acrylic on wood board “Remembering Sewoll” 1.93 X 1.32 m, mixed media on canvas