In Flying Horses, a 40-inch-by-84-inch oil and gold leaf on linen piece, aqua, white and periwinkle-colored racehorses shoot from the left side of the canvas. “This painting is about energy, the incredible amount of energy set free once restrictions are gone,” Ponte Vedra Beach artist Susanne Schuenke writes in a description of the work.
Golden Tao, a 55-inch-by-69-inch oil and gold leaf on linen, depicts an Asian male figure who stands on the left side of a golden yin-yang as a girl crouches on the right. Schuenke delves into this piece, saying, “When we come to the end of a busy day, the sky darkens; we slow down and close our eyes for restful sleep, where we enter a different dimension, the world of dreams.”
These are just a few of the worlds afforded by the imagination, creativity and techniques Schuenke has learned over the years.
Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, Schuenke was raised by artists. “They were the best teachers I could ever have,” she says of her parents. “I went to art school from the day I could hold a pen. At crawling age, I’d get paper and a big, soft, felt marker and I do it since then and never think twice about it.”
And although they encouraged a stimulating artistic landscape, Schuenke’s parents insisted that she receive a proper education in case she couldn’t make a living selling paintings, so she studied art history at the University of Cologne in Germany and the University of London and earned a doctorate from the University of Cologne in 1986.
Schuenke moved to the United States in 1991 when she married a Jacksonville native (they’ve since divorced) and settled in Ponte Vedra Beach. The Germany-born artist is now an American citizen, but still speaks with a fairly thick accent.
“Since I’m on my own, it’s my world,” Schuenke says of being able to create her works in her home. “I work and create and live in my world. I’m not a type to work in a warehouse atmosphere. I really need peace, aesthetic and beauty around me. And I definitely need nature around me otherwise I’m like a flower without sunshine.”
The results of being able to work in an environment she controls are colorful paintings that deal in surreal narratives with characterized figures and abstract concepts. Schuenke’s content ranges from lyric- narrative stories to philosophical themes and socio-political topics; she’s also highly disciplined — perhaps the result of a German upbringing.
“Being very good in your art is not enough. There’s much more to having great talent, your own style, great quality and unique ideas,” she explains. “Without discipline — discipline in your schedule, in your technique, how you prepare everything around the painting — it’s like fuel in your car. It’s a very important part of art.”
With an exhibition slated to open Thursday, March 19 at a space next door to the Gulani Vision Institute on the Southside, Schuenke’s been putting in a lot of hours. The show, which runs through April 12, features 40 original oils, a handful of original watercolors and a few giclée prints.
“You can sing a simple melody with a drawing. Then you have a watercolor, which would be like having one instrument with the richness of the instrument. And then you have the oil painting, which is a symphony,” Schuenke says of her preferred medium.
The majority of the artist’s work is done on linen and she utilizes precious metals like gold and palladium leaf — much like the Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt. “There’s definitely a compelling beauty, aesthetically, in the shine,” Schuenke says. “But I also use it if I want to stress something in a very specific way. I think it enriches the palate and the possibility enormously.”
Armed with the Old Masters techniques, unique stylizations, rich color compositions and a German upbringing based on creativity, Schuenke’s shown her work worldwide, from London and Miami to New York and Lebanon.
“I was never limited in the way that I wanted to express something or experiment, so I feel free and confident and go on and on,” Schuenke explains. “But I’m blessed that the quality of my art is accepted in a way, so I can make a living.”