Defying Discouragement

BY Connor Dziawura

Mesa artist Susan Hanch Paige says it’s unusual for someone to have an extended art career like her.

“I think artists get discouraged,” Paige says.

Now 65, Paige has been successful for years. After earning a bachelor’s degree in art from Northern Illinois University, she moved to Arizona and became heavily involved in the Valley’s then-blossoming art scene in the early 1980s.

That includes, over the years, work in art galleries and with the Mesa Art League, while perfecting her own work all the while.

“What I find is most of the women my age just started doing it. It’s like, ‘Oh, I’m retired and I’m going to paint.’ And they go take art classes.”

For Paige and two of her contemporaries, Vivian Stearns-Kohler and Sheryl Stradling, who are each just a few years older than Paige, the opposite is the case. So, Paige has organized an exhibit—just featuring the three of them.

“Three Baby Boomer Women Abstract Artists” will launch with an opening reception from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at the OneOhOne art gallery, 101 W. Main Street, Mesa. There will be hors d’oeuvres, and all three artists will be present.

Normal viewing hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday until March 31.

Combating the aforementioned “discouragement” artists face requires dedication, according to Paige.

“It’s tough to be tenacious and stick with it that long because there’s a lot of rejection,” she says. “You enter shows and you don’t always get juried in, but we just kept plugging along all these years.”

Luckily for Paige, she has broader stakes in the art world. In addition to creating at a studio off the OneOhOne gallery with her husband, Lt. Col. Barry Rosenblatt, who also took up art after retirement, she has long liked the business element—organizing shows and promoting other artists.

“I think because I had that aspect—I wasn’t just always in the studio depending on just the sales of my art—that’s kept me going all these years,” she explains.

Paige, Stearns-Kohler and Stradling have known, worked and exhibited together for “a couple years,” according to the former, so these three baby boomer women wanted to celebrate their womanhood and experience with the upcoming exhibit. Paige says they met through the Mesa Art League.

“We all have been doing abstract art for quite a long time and I thought, ‘Well, let’s—the three of us—get together and let’s put out there that we’re baby boomers, we’re older in life and here we are, professional artists making art and doing it abstractly,’” she explains.

“Abstract” is a key word, as it’s a style she feels often takes the back burner to realism. Paintings will comprise “Three Baby Boomer Women Abstract Artists.”

“The three of us are all what’s called ‘nonobjective abstract artists,’ which means it’s in our heads,” Paige explains. “We’re not pulling it from something in nature or whatever; we just kind of come up with the idea in our head and then we try to translate what we’re trying to say on the canvas.

“I also do abstract from nature,” she adds. “I do both.”

There will be an approximate 40 pieces, from small to large creations, on the gallery walls.

“All of us happen to do a style that brings in an Asian influence, whether we use the Asian calligraphy or images from Asia, and so we thought that was interesting,” Paige continues. “We all are working in that vein.”

Paige wants art enthusiasts to leave the gallery with a sense of positivity after having viewed the three boomers’ creations.

“We’ve had a lot of experiences, and so I think that comes through of our art,” she suggests. “I think in general people are going to be very uplifted by it, because we all work in a very uplifting, fun way but we also have a lot to share in our experiences and what we’ve experienced in life. So, some of the pieces will portray some of our trials and tribulations through life.”

She adds, “It’s so subjective; it touches people in different ways. The cool thing about abstract art is it’s not realism. You don’t sit in front of it and go, ‘Oh, it’s a tree. It’s a cup. It’s a flower.’ It helps people reflect and think, and people see so many different things in abstract art that maybe we don’t even see. So they’re taking away something that touches them in some way, either mentally or emotionally.

“That’s the cool thing about abstract art,” she concludes. “It really is in the eye of the beholder.”