What’s Behind the Creative Mind: Susan Pepler

Celebrating the arts in Brome-Missisquoi

While Knowlton-based artist Susan Pepler has always been a painter, she can recall a specific moment from her childhood that propelled her to become an artist. Waiting outside of a hotel in Malaysia with her family, 11-year-old Pepler watched as a limousine pulled up in front of her. The back door opened, and out tumbled three little girls all holding hands, resembling doll-like triplets.

It was an ordinary moment, seeing children climbing out of a vehicle, but the uniformity of the girls’ presence held a certain beauty for Pepler. She exclaimed joyfully to her family about the scene that she had just witnessed, but found that they had been too busy with other things to notice the girls. It was at this moment that Pepler realized that she had a unique vision onto the world, bearing witness to beautiful scenes in everyday life that others may have missed.

As an artist, Pepler’s large acrylic paintings take many forms, but are notably marked by floral still lifes, vintage cars, and bright landscapes. In her floral collections, flowers spill off the canvas and loom at the viewer, giving us a new sense of scale. The micro perspective pushes our imaginations past the frame, giving us time and space to contemplate the detailed curves of its petals and vibrant colours expertly applied by thousands of brush strokes. While flowers may be an ordinary sight in a house or garden, Pepler’s focus encourages us to reconsider its habitual charm.

“I want people to look up and be present to beauty,” Pepler says. “[My art is] in your face and blown up and bigger than life for that reason. It’s like a window to beauty. Like people gaze at a fire, you can gaze at a painting and see it’s alive.”

Her desire to bring this beauty to the world took form over 20 years ago, after transitioning from a career doing illustrations in advertising to becoming a full-time painter. While some may see business and art as two opposites, it was through advertising that Pepler learned how to make everyday objects shine and honed her skills while drawing cars for various clients. These experiences transferred perfectly when she began doing paintings of vintage cars, inspired by the vehicles and old school magic of Havana, which went on to become one of her most popular series.

In her collection of still lifes, which include florals but also range from glistening perfume bottles to sunbathing vegetables on kitchen countertops, we find an artist’s gaze that examines the world with a soft patience. Pepler is bringing to light casual scenes that we may have overlooked while our minds occupy themselves elsewhere. Whereas some branches of contemporary art shift towards louder subjects, Pepler is perfectly content to be creating paintings with traditional roots. She is drawn not to the rarity of her subjects, but to their capacity for beauty as ordinary objects.

“Whatever I paint is going to be full of life and alive and relevant because I’m alive and relevant,” she says. “There’s nothing dated about the way I’m painting because painting and still lifes will never die… Paintings are full of energy. That’s why I paint happy paintings, because that’s the energy I want people to look up to.”

Life in Pepler’s studio is currently cast in shades of cool, as she is working on a new series painting blue and white porcelain, from plates to vases with Lily of the valley spilling out of them. Another of her current projects sees her brush crafting the smooth edges of pearls, inspired by a fleeting moment in which Pepler witnessed a ray of light falling perfectly on two pearls she had in a bowl. It’s these moments of quiet beauty in which she bears witness to something striking and immediately knows she’s stumbled upon her next painting.

Working on these new projects has a meditative element for Pepler, as the world disappears when she puts brush to canvas. Her mind pours over the colours she will use as she brings new forms to life, whether they are objects from up close or landscapes from afar. It’s a process that she knows to trust instinctually, knowing her hand will guide her to the places she needs to go. After honing her craft for over two decades, she describes the painting process as a visual language that she’s quite fluent in.

“For me, art or painting is simply a vehicle for love. It’s a way to share the love I have for life, for beauty and for all of the amazing people I meet in the process of being an artist. It’s a way of life.”

Pepler shares stories and new work through her newsletter, which can be found on her website at https://www.studiosusanpepler.com/. She loves engaging with new people, and welcomes anyone to get in contact with her via Facebook, or to visit her studio in non-lockdown times, perhaps this summer during the Tour des Arts 2022.

This project has been made possible by the Community Media Strategic Support Fund offered jointly by the Official Language Minority Community Media Consortium and the Government of Canada.

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