Susan Teare is a Vermont-based multimedia artist, art teacher, and creative advisor for the Yellow Tulip Project. An avid gardener, Teare lived with yellow tulips for the past year in support of the mission of the Yellow Tulip Project to smash the stigma around mental illness. In addition to using her extensive background in photography, Teare also draws, writes, and uses other mediums to create art inspired by the life cycle and regeneration of her tulip garden.
Teare’s solo exhibition “Hope Happens” is on display at Siy Gallery from July 15 to August 15th, 2021. For more information on the Yellow Tulip Project, please visit their website.
Can you describe the symbolism of tulips in your work? What other motifs/symbols do you like to use repeatedly?
I had the experience of living with them. I was often able to find bulbs at the grocery store and watch them come up and bloom and slowly die. I took that experience of noticing and observing their natural cycle. It was an experience of living my life in that way. I would do writing, photography, print making-- everything I could do to make an expression of what I was observing.
I have about 25 years working as an architectural photographer and recently, I’ve been seeking a more personal, creative process. I started working with the Yellow Tulip Project and it inspired me to add tulips as a symbol of hope and perseverance in my work.
When I was working on this project at the end, it wasn’t just about the tulips, it was about the safe spaces we all live in and where we experience our lives. The tulips were always a part of my living space over the last year but they eventually became part of my safe space where I find comfort. I watch the light come in my windows, how the tulips respond, how I respond.
I’m also very drawn to texture. There’s a lot of texture in fabrics, floors. It becomes part of the experience of everyday life. I think those textures are something that we often don’t notice but they’re all around us and I really enjoy putting them in my artwork.
Your use of contrasting colors is quite striking, from deep blue and dark shadows to brighter yellow and green. What do you hope your use of color conveys?
I’m often drawn to the color blue and I do like more muted colors that you do see in some of my work, like the sepia tones and varying shades of black and white. The yellow tulip, the color itself, inspired me to look at colors more and combine them. I think it’s a sense of light. I tend to gravitate towards a more muted color palette. I think color can make people really happy.
There’s an image where the leaves from the winter are wrapping around the new growth of the tulip. I decided that the sepia tone was a better way of conveying the message of transition and transformation, from Winter to Spring. Even though the color isn’t bright and beautiful and happy, there’s still that sense of hope. Everything’s cyclical- nature does its process, there’s rebirth, decay, and then it all happens again.
Can you describe the relationship between your work and mental health? Whether it be your own mental health, that of viewers and consumers of your work, general concepts, and so on.
I’m currently in a graduate certificate program at Lesley University studying arts and health. I’m hoping to continue my studies there after this Fall. I think the work that I do is for my own mental health as well as figuring out ways in which I can develop programming with the arts to help others to develop coping skills for their own mental health issues. I feel that I can’t fully and authentically help other people until I actually do it myself. That’s why I really wanted to live with the tulips.
I planted a big tulip garden last Fall and then I had my own tulip garden to live in this Spring! I feel that I look to nature and the elements for guidance and momentum to keep me healthy and moving forward. I’ve had to express myself creatively to stay healthy so what I want to do is help other people find that as well.
I developed this relationship with the yellow tulips for the Yellow Tulip Project so that I could dial into what is a yellow tulip? And what does that mean to me? During this whole year, and especially during COVID, I don’t know what I would’ve done without the yellow tulips. In the end, I will be able to take my education and my experience to develop ways in which people can be creative in relationship to the yellow tulip and other things in nature to make art for mental wellness.
How do you think art can be used for healing?
There’s something for everybody. I truly believe everybody is creative and I want to be able to help people find a daily creative practice rooted in nature that is unique to them. It doesn’t have to be painting or being really good at drawing. There’s so many people that don’t think they’re artists but there’s some sort of creativity within them that I believe is there and that I believe can be healing.
That’s a daily practice-- it’s a ritual that I would love to help people find, discover, explore, and then nurture. That, to me, is very healing. If you get up everyday, maybe the day doesn’t feel so hopeful, but if you know there’s something you can make or create, it feels good. You have this beautiful documentation of life. It could be cooking, knitting, anything. It’s finding your own creativity.
What is your inspiration for using natural elements in your work?
I have always been drawn to the woods, trees, wind, fire. The natural landscape and all the elements, since I was really little, has always been there for me.
I’m studying ecotherapy as well in my program. I am definitely very dialed into this cyclical time. It’s something that’s very comforting to me. When I make art, when I document that cyclical time, that is what nature is offering everyday, there’s a sense of wholeness in my life and fullness. It’s been a beautiful way to start living my life in making art everyday. That is a daily creative practice for me and that daily creative process has changed my life. I think it can be very transformative and healing for other people.
Can you describe your artistic process?
I work seasonally. I enjoy doing photography, I try to write everyday, I love printmaking. I’ve been doing a lot of drypoint and monotypes. I’ve been experimenting with painting and doing collagraphs. As I work through the seasons, I like to look through my work over that time frame. I consider them layers of experience that I let happen as I make them. I try to work on a daily basis.
At the end of each season as it closes out and we transition into the next, I take about a week and sort through them and photograph everything if they’re not already photographed. I’ll photograph my monotypes and everything. I’ll find new things in them and create new compositions. I sit there and do layered imagery with all the different textures, layers, images, paintings, monotypes. It’s a very hands-on physical process throughout the season. Then, I bring it back to a photo-based type of artwork.
I had grown tired of just working with photography. I went back and got an MFA from Maine Media College from 2016 to 2019. I was seeking a more personal creative practice and I had gotten quite tired of making imagery just looking through a camera lens. Recently, I got back into a very physical way of creating. I try to draw at least three or four times a week, and paint, and make monotypes. I feel like my physicality has come back into the work, which feels really right.
When you’re that prolific with making work, it can be overwhelming. It makes sense to me and feels really right to bring it all together at the end of the season and close it out. In New England, we have very defined seasons that are very much a part of my inner being. It’s what I grew up with. Fall, Winter, and Spring are very defined and they are embedded in my life here.
What is your most notable piece, in terms of having an interesting story behind it and/or having significant value for you personally?
It happens maybe 2-4 times a year that I get an image that truly encompasses my authentic experience. That is the best representation of my experience. This piece represents what my work is about--the experience of life and cyclical time.
In this image there’s a lot going on. While I was drawing and photographing the tulips for over a year, I became so enamored and fascinated with where the stem meets the bottom of the tulip. I never grew tired of that part of this tulip that was always so beautiful no matter what kind of tulip it was. It was a place I always found so much beauty because of its structure. It’s somewhat architectural in the tulip how that stem meets the bottom of the tulip. To me, that right side of the artwork represents the part of the tulip I love most.
The other part of the image speaks to my love for spaces within spaces. One of my favorite parts and ways of making art is to create edges and straight architectural lines that are combined with the abstraction of nature and the fluidity of the curves. For me, this feels like the right combination of the tulip existing within these spaces that I inhabit.
Another part of it is that I did a lot of automatic drawing and painting over the last year. I find a lot of beauty in that automatic drawing. I did hundreds of them and this is one of them I did with India ink.
If I was to try to summarize it, this is what it feels like to live with yellow tulips. This is the way in which I work and the way I experience and feel things. It’s a space that you can inhabit from deep within my own personal landscape.
I also actually painted a lot of my monotypes and worked with dirt from the tulip garden. There’s a lot of dirt in my work.
What’s next for you?
We hope to take more of this yellow tulip artwork out to the public and have the work travel so we can bring awareness to the Yellow Tulip Project and mental health to other parts of the country. We’d like to keep working with this project and the community.
I collaborated with another artist, Sarah Zobel. She and I have worked together on this project with yellow tulip gardens and community involvement. I will continue to work with Sarah to keep creating community art and art ourselves to bring awareness to YTP.