Thursday August 5, 2021 | by UrbanGlass Staff

Makeda Firmin & Susie Peck

Suzanne Peck is a visual artist, writer, curator and educator who lives and creates in Rochester, NY. She loves photography, digital video, literature, and finally, glass. Her practice in glass considers the desire to touch, and to capture the live movement and creation of glass. Suzanne’s goal is to make her viewer feel uncomfortable while looking at her art. Her pieces also aim for the viewer to want to feel her pieces, physically and visually. For the piece Navel Gazer, the piece looks identical to real oranges. It makes the viewer question why such an ordinary fruit would find its way into an art gallery. Then suddenly, touch would come into the picture. After feeling it's cold and hard texture, the viewer wouldn’t help to be taken aback by this odd but familiar fruit! She earned her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design’s glass department, having her work exhibited worldwide and held in both public and private collections. 

While teaching at the Rochester Institute of Technology, she spends her free time making more textured glass art and enjoying art as a constant learning ground for herself. There is more to her than just being a skilled glass artist, and I did not appreciate the vague articles and blogs that I read about her prior to the planned interview that I had with her in early July. I was on a mission to understand the complex mind of Suzanne Peck and her ideas as a glass creator in the competitive world of art.

Using glass as a conceptual lens to complicate dominant physiological narratives, Suzanne takes a dive deep into personal subject positions to expose the vulnerability of the skin in her series named Proud and Shy. Like many of her pieces, including Emote and Gild the cracks, this piece is on the topic of skin and vulnerability. Even though some of the pieces could make your skin crawl, there is still a hidden desire to touch the items as an exchange of pleasure and aggression; of glassy skin against yours. All of her pieces are interactive, but hold a deeper backstory to Proud and Shy. Suzanne Peck always finds a way to continue this concept, and finds passion in doing so. More than the rest of her pieces, she can connect with these patches of texture because she can relate to the roughness and the skin-crawling look to these pieces. All her life, she has struggled with an over-heightened stage of eczema that has prevented her from feeling normal. She creates a variety of skin patches to cope with the unique condition she has. During my interview with Suzanne, she explained her internal mechanism and emotional response towards her skin. Gild the Cracks was part of her journey of convincing her brain that she was beautiful, basking it in gold.. And yes, it was for an aesthetic purpose, the gold does not affect her skin in any way.

Glass occurs in nature due to miraculous formations of heat and pressure, connecting with her piece, Touched. As Suzanne mentions on her website, she has a desire to occasionally touch the newborn glass, which is most likely over 500 Celsius. It is an ongoing battle attempting to caress the molten material, knowing that you could get severely hurt if you do. The performance, as she says, “blurs the lines between affection and aggression.” Touched refers back to her skin flaring up, being painful, yet still desiring the affection from others, to be touched. She sees it as a line between pleasure and pain, and the grotesque to the outside perspective.
After a lovely conversation with Suzanne and her obsession with skin, I wanted to know about her two water pieces Sink or Swim (2007) and Submerge (2009). Her two water pieces swim around the idea of being alone. Suzanne describes it as “being on another planet”. Both art pieces were created through digital Video, inside a swimming pool, using glass as the subject piece. With Sink or Swim having the glass hollow tubes clinging to her body, keeping her up float, and Submerge having a cast glass inner tube at the bottom of a pool, the two pieces pose the same desire towards an alienated and loved being. The description of Submerge clarifies that the point of the piece is being this desired, adored and abandoned object in the watery world. She explained how her water-based pieces felt like an escape from the world. She described it as her body being “the performer on a different planet”, and while being in her graduating year in graduate school she was in a stage of feeling that way as an artist, clarifying my theory of her almost drowning or overwhelming herself at that time. That piece was made to show the viewer the water world in a different lens, clearly leaving up for interpretation.

But during the interview I planned to stop to talk about what she currently had her eyes on at the moment. Her art from over a decade ago does not necessarily represent who she is today, hence the question of what she was passionate about at the moment. In answering that question, Suzanne began to finally talk about her adoration for literature and use of words in general. She talked about her appreciation for people who combine two strong words together until they make a beautiful sentence. She someday hopes for her obsession for words and language and storytelling to merge with her obsession with body, texture, material and sensation, leading her to a new passion of “female divine”. I asked her to elaborate on that statement, and she went into depth about her art one day hoping to capture the journey of becoming a woman. How it’s not a mystery once the woman goes through periods multiple times, but it is very scary and unexpected in the first few years. This conversation with Suzanne not only made me glad that I asked that question, but also excited to know a sneak peak into her future thought processes in future projects. It was like diving into new territory and growing my own perception of being an artist. Her art is not political nor predictable, which I think many artists struggle to step out of. I know many artists that stay around the same political stances as a decade ago, and are almost too scared to step out of their thinking box to present to their well-known audience. It seems like a barrier that the artist and the audience would create together, most likely in order to stay monetizable. With that in mind, I asked her “Is there any art piece that you wish you have created, but never did?” She told me that this question missed the mark for her because her way of processing art is by either doing it now, or giving the idea some time to create it later. I then explained to her my reasoning for asking her that question, which was the struggle of most artists told in college to stay consistent in a certain style, and with a certain audience, and that branching out your thoughts too much could lead to demise. She liked my explanation and decided to answer it again. 

 “That really makes sense! So...I make art divorced from the contextualization of demonetization… There is no market driving my making, and me being an educator, I can structure my life on that passion as well as making art...which is the path that I put myself on.” By supporting herself with her job as a teacher, she is not particularly stressed if her art would not sell because she chooses not to rely on the approval of the art audience. By doing that, she could easily disconnect from the process that other artists tend to go through, hence having her art done organically by her ideas. She also cannot imagine convincing someone to buy her art - that makes her feel vulnerable.
“This is not advice, just perspective,” she concluded. 

I also wanted to know more about her experiences this past year and a half during quarantine, since everyone has been touched differently. She described it as a super disruptive year, preventing her from thinking into the future. Her work has also changed in her reliance on glass and Shapes Like Holes possibly being her last glass focused exhibit.
Finally I asked her who she would want to be as a person in the next few years. Suzanne admires Katherine Gray and explained how she was on the right path to being a kind, light-hearted, and a proud feminist like her, but she also left it up in the air and said that she would continue to explore the unknown in the art realm and try new things. The interview ended and she invited me to her exhibit that would happen next week. I was excited to see her newly-made pieces, and see her for the last time.
It was July 14th, 5:45 PM, everyone gathered around to view the exhibit. Her friends and family cheered as we saw her walk through the UrbanGlass doors with her glass partner in crime-I was the youngest one there, but I definitely felt welcomed by the whole family. Suzanne then sheepishly got in front of her pieces and started her artist speech. I was in awe with the crowd on how Proud and Shy she was in those few minutes.

“That’s my daughter!” Her father shouted as she finished her speech.

Everyone laughed and cheered, and for the first time, I felt happy to be in an exhibit seeing her new work for the very first time with everybody else. I talked with a few of her family members, including her partner’s! And it was overall a great time, it started to get crowded with more friends and family members 20 mins in, and it was getting harder to try to reach Suzanne. She was happy, and no longer nervous. I decided to sit down near one of her pieces and read her artist statement of Shapes Like Holes. I read through and felt overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful piece! There was just so much to say and or talk about in my report in our interview from last week, and this paper.

I slowly re-read the lines over and over again, then received a spark.

“The work is ultimately a translation of embodied experience.. The imagination resulting in abstraction of body and sensation.”

I also like the line of her saying that her pieces were stretchers that played with scale, and indeed they were. I also easily dropped in to listen to what others thought about her artwork. One of her parents said that it moved with their eyes, kind of like a controlled chaos of glass. There was another conversation, where an artist wanderer approached Susie, and said how much he appreciated how she captured the untamable, hot movement of the glass. He was definitely referring to her newly hanged glass piece with a few folds on each side of the piece. And it was nice, but she kept talking about how glass like that was arousing and that she really wants to touch it when it would get into that state (Usually when it's 1000 Celsius). I was taken aback, until Suzanne agreed with his statement. I guess it’s a glass thing, but I too really wanted to touch hot glass when I was at the hot shop the other day. 

I creeped away from that conversation until I noticed a similar piece outside from her exhibit. It was a digital photography piece in the exhibition Flesh of my Flesh. (Pull and Prod by Kayla Cantu) It also played on the factors of skin being folded and played around with handmade-glass tweezers. I read the artist statement, and they wrote “Cantu claims their body as unruly, a site, on that holds tectonic shifts………..Cantu takes their own body as an archival discovery of a new geological understanding of existence and finds glass as a material that can resemble these representations.” Now I had to get a hold of Susie! I couldn’t hold back any more.

“Suzanne! Uh hi.” I called

“Hi” She smiled

“What do you think of Pull and Prod?” I pointed towards the pieces.

“Oh I think that it’s an excellent show, she was one of my students”

“Really?” Many of us said at the same time

“Yeah!. What do you think of it?

Well, I thought that Cantu kind of built on the relationship between glass and the human body.”

“Hm. Yes it’s possible that I have influenced some people” She smiled.

Suddenly everyone was circling around Cantu’s work and comparing the similarities. I suddenly realized what Suzanne had meant when she spoke about being an educator and a passionate artist at the same time. I was amazed by how many artists she has influenced, and touched in such a beautiful way. Now, I knew exactly what to write. With the exhibit being an eyeopener, I rushed home to gather all of my thoughts; bringing together what truly made Suzanne an amazing artist. 

So I made a rule to stay away from how she created the pieces and more on what they mean to her and her audience. I do not want anyone reading this to try to figure out the hows, this is not an art class. She uses a range of techniques for each piece so that would take forever. I want the reader to discover the glass art world since it is in fact underrated. And lastly, I want the reader to grasp on what Suzanne is trying to tell the world.

It is ok to be Proud and Shy and to be imperfectly perfect, but if you put these feelings into art...You will be truly beautiful.
Suzanne Peck: Shapes Like Holes is on view in the Agnes Varis Arts Center Window Gallery through August 26th, 2021. The Agnes Varis Arts Center is open Wednesday-Saturday, 11:30am-7:00pm and Sunday 11:30am-6:30pm.