Sometimes the best-laid plans go awry, and it is in the new direction that someone finds her true life’s work. Call it divine intervention, fate or destiny. The evolution of Susan Foley’s art followed such a trajectory. As a young dancer who was forced to stop her craft due to an injury, she later turned her focus to visual arts. It is in this redirection that she found her true love along the way—contemporary abstract expressionist painting.
Interestingly, Foley’s initial work in dance plays a large role in her artwork today. “Movement is the most important feature of my work,” Foley says. “If people see motion in my art, it’s because I am constantly moving as I’m painting across the canvas.” Her form of creative expression simply morphed from dance to painting while retaining much of the physicality in the process. “Painting feels so much like dancing to me. I paint quickly to a musical rhythm as I transfer my energy and emotion onto the canvas,” she says.
The scenic route to her artistic career was well worth the wait. From her hometown of Dallas to living on the French Riviera, moving to the English countryside and back to Dallas, Foley honed her artistic skill and special painting technique each step of the way. She began by painting smaller, representational works, then transitioned to larger, commissioned murals in her early 20s. She interspersed this work with painting on luxury silks and velvets, manufacturing them into pillows and curtains in her entrepreneurial design company.
Moving to Europe was the catalyst that transformed Foley’s artwork to the modern abstract expressionism it is today. While living in France, she was surrounded by a diverse group of artists, from glassblowers to potters to painters. This is where she began her free-flowing style inspired by sumi-e, an ancient Japanese form of monochromatic ink painting that is reminiscent of calligraphy. “Ink painting provides a totally different fluid movement, which allows more expressive, extended brushstrokes,” Foley says.
Her experimentation continued when her family moved to the Cotswolds in England, where she opened a studio in what she describes “felt like the middle of nowhere” in Charlton Park Estates. There she began to build on her work in France, attempting to re-create the inkwork with acrylics. “Besides being a beautiful place to continue my exploration of abstraction, I had more space and creative freedom to do whatever I wanted,” says Foley. By mixing her own proprietary formulations of acrylics, she put a modern spin on the ancient technique that later became a signature feature in many of her works.
Her final move back to Dallas and subsequent connection with mentor Steven Aimone helped further develop her dynamic, corporeal expressionist style. Her work evolved with the incorporation of custom glazes, bringing together rich texture, a sense of momentum and depth to her large-scale works. “I began to alternate multiple layers of energetic brushstrokes with transparent glazes that I have developed over the years. I continue this process until I feel the painting has arrived at a stage of total independence,” she says.
Although Foley works quickly during some stages of a painting, her painstaking process includes much reflection and analysis before her works are completed. An open wall in her living
room allows her to transfer artwork in and out as she lives with each piece for a while to decide if it is just right. Does it have an underlying structure, contrast, depth and movement? If she’s not
satisfied, the piece goes back to the studio for more work until she is pleased to present it to the world.
When reflecting on a finished piece, Foley often discovers traces of past homes or fragments of locales she has visited tucked away in the features of a painting. “Subconsciously, I am conjuring
lapsed elements of my life and translating my experiences through paint, replicating my feelings in the depths of abstract designs,” she says.
Foley wants her collectors to know each piece is special and means something to her. “I absolutely love what I do, and I hope people can see feeling and energy in my art and that it sparks some kind of emotion in them.”
Foley will be exhibiting at The Other Art Fair on May 12–15 at the Dallas Market Hall.
Dana W. Todd is a professional writer specializing in interior design, real estate, luxury homebuilding, landscape design, architecture and art.