One day, Susan Maddux pondered a canvas in her studio and decided to take it off the stretchers. She began to play with the material, “folding it, ripping it, cutting it, painting it. It was so tactile and 3D,” Maddux says. “I’d always had this idea of what a painter—which I was—did and how a painter was supposed to work.” Treating the canvas as a textile as much as a surface for painting was, she says, incredibly freeing.
These days, Maddux works out of a studio in Los Angeles. Her process involves substantial preparation. “I do a lot of designing color palettes before I start painting large pieces,” she reports. “I like to get really comfortable with how the colors behave, how they dry, how they mix with the other colors before I start. I do tests and studies, and sometimes make maquettes for particular projects.”
Maddux uses acrylic paints, which can look like dyes or watercolors on the canvas. Each piece is made of multiple separate paintings folded and combined. “I like to be surprised by what the paint does, the way it moves and blends,” says the artist. “I control it, but it also thwarts my ability to control it. I have to build into my process the unexpected. I create each piece layer by layer, element by element.”
While the artist shares that she loves doing larger pieces since they have more presence, smaller work figures into her practice. “I spend months in the studio playing with small pieces—experimenting and studying,” she explains. And recent experiments have yielded an exciting new direction for her to explore. “I’m creating elaborately cut pieces that almost resemble lace,” shares the artist. “It speaks even more to a couture level of detail and contrasting textures.”
Making her art in Los Angeles versus New York, where she previously lived, has also allowed Maddux to pursue different ways of presenting her work. “There, I felt like I had to be in a gallery; here, I am creating my own visibility via social media. I like this new world—this ability to connect with people and do it with this work,” she says. “It took me a long time to have the nerve to go for it as a career, to say: This is what I am. I stopped trying to do what I thought I should and started doing what I wanted to do. It’s wonderful to concentrate on it and to have people respond.”