Susan Chambers strays far from the American standard of a manicured lawn and a garden carpeted with non-native plants. The Arkansas-based painter practices soliphilia, a term coined by sustainability professor Glenn Albrecht that refers to “the love and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet, and the unity of interrelated interests within it.”
Keeping this practice in mind over the past six years, Susan supports a flourishing, biodiverse garden populated by native plants and buzzing pollinators—the perfect inspiration for her lush and leafy work. After tending to her garden, Susan creates small plein-air studies that undergo expansion and elaboration in her studio. “I seek a magical place between reality and abstraction,” she says of her process. Her acrylic work, painted in a flattened style, features food-bearing plants, flowers, birds, insects, and often Susan herself, working away at an easel or gripping a garden hose.
“Space is flattened and compressed to express the density and chaos of abundance,” Susan writes in her artist statement. “My colors are saturated, and I often use complementary contrast. When the colors vibrate I feel the transcendence of being in the garden.”
Continually inspired by the peace she finds among plants, Susan explores local flora and fauna in multiple themed series. Her Southern series lazes in Gothic charm, while Folk delights in pink flamingos and red-capped gnomes. Similarly, the Environmental series traces the life of a cozy home as it’s battered by pollution, foreclosure, and rising tides. Here, Susan nods to the concept of solastalgia, a form of existential depression caused by the loss of safe space. While she refuses to paper over environmental angst, Susan finds her own peace of mind by working with her hands and doing good where she can. “The more that I work in my garden, the more I learn about myself and my connection to the earth,” she says. “To lose yourself in the garden is to find a new way of being.”
“To lose yourself in the garden is to find a new way of being.” — Susan Chambers
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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