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Goldenstein Art Gallery, Sedona

Susan Makara

Reach for the Stars by Susan Makara
Reach for the Stars

artists BIO

Susan Makara

My fascination with cairns began during a trip to Sedona, Arizona in 2000. Hiking one morning, aching from the camera equipment slung over my shoulder, I entered an area forgetting the pain. Before me were literally hundreds of manmade pillars of balanced rocks. I was in awe as I wandered among them. One structure obviously took the concerted effort of at least four people to build. Another was taller than me. What were they about? There was no answer because I was completely alone in this seemingly sacred place. I spent the rest of the day photographing those precarious rock piles, very thankful I had not turned back before reaching them.

One cannot see it in a photograph, but Sedona’s red rocks glitter in sunlight because of the large amount of silica in them. To mimic that effect I used metallic leaf and oil, a combination I was very familiar with. This technique gave the work the illusion of an inner glow that varied with the light source.

Rock paintings exploded from me! I was a volcano spewing metallic rock paintings. A visitor called them “Faberge Eggs from the Earth.” In October 2001 I had my first solo show.

I continued painting rocks until I had finished well over 100 pieces. The last piece I did in the series, “A Bumpy Ride”, featured a cobblestone road undulating through the sky up to the Moon. When I finished that painting my rock obsession suddenly ceased. The passion I had felt was gone. I was rocked out.

Two years passed without another rock painting. All of my stone paintings sold and were scattered across the US and abroad. Some found homes in Hawaii, Alaska, Ireland, Australia, Germany and England. Unknowingly, I had developed a small following. A visitor walked into my rockless studio and asked, “Where’s the Rock Lady?” When I told her I was the Rock Lady she, like many others, wanted to know when I would be painting them again.

I started painting rocks again at the end of 2005, changing the surface from canvas to board to enhance the luster of the leaf. Pleased with the results, in January I placed a large order with Ampersand for two inch cradled Gessobords built to my specs. I looked forward to painting rocks again.

While waiting for the boards I got a call telling me that my father was in critical condition due to a fall. I spent the next three months in North Carolina caring for my parents. When my father died I became guardian for my mother who had severe dementia. She died sixty-five days after my father. I had surgery ten days later and got on a plane bound for Sedona shortly afterwards. I wanted to see the cairns again. The experience changed my art.

My Ampersand order arrived. The desire to use metallic leaf left. I realized that rough deep texture was what I needed to express my feelings. The textures are a variety of acrylic gel mediums applied by palette knife. The highlights and shadows are acrylic. The first textural cairn paintings have an unbleached titanium background and the stones are the natural color of Sedona rocks. Something in the cairns was again drawing people into the studio. I ordered more Gessobords.

Life events again affected my work. In November 2007 the colors I used became so subtle that the paintings almost appeared black and white. When the backgrounds changed to black it seemed as though the cairns were lit by moonlight.

All over the world, from ancient times until present, from mountains to deserts and coasts, people have built cairns. Sometimes they mark a significant place or tomb, serve as communication, mark a trail, or have a religious purpose. Cairns allow us to ponder the balance of life. Painting is my medicine. It calms me. It is healing. I don’t know what evolution my stone paintings will acquire as my journey through this life continues. But I’m pretty sure there are more rock paintings yet to come.