Ponte Vedra Beach resident Susanne Schuenke is a German American artist whose works are in public and private collections around the world. She is also the co-author of a new book, “Echo of the Unconscious in Painting,” which she will present during a Jan. 14 talk at the Ponte Vedra Beach Branch Library.
As told to Maggie FitzRoy
Q: What kind of painting do you specialize in?
A: Oil painting and watercolor. First, I draw, then I do a water color and then the oil. The drawing is like singing a melody and the watercolor is like chamber music with five instruments and the oil painting is a symphony.
Q: What would you say is your style?
A: Art critics call it narrative surrealism. I’m expressing many of my thoughts in my personal style, but in a way that the observer can recognize what I want to convey. It takes a little time because a painting is not a poster. And a painting is a dialogue partner for life.
Q: How long does it usually take you to do a painting?
A: From drawing to watercolor can be immediate, in a day. But it can take a while before I start on the oil painting and it always takes months to finish. Right now, I am working on several.
Q: What is the main project you are working on now?
A: The name of the painting (which Schuenke is standing beside in the photo) is “We Know Only 4%.” The meaning has nothing to do with the stock market, it is much better. I got the idea from a lecture about cosmology and physics. The lecturer spoke about black matter and black energy. That those are only names, place holders. Because 96% of the cosmos as far as we know is not known. Dark or black only means unknown, it has nothing to do with color.
Q: You grew up in Germany. When did you move to the United States?
A: Finally, in 1991. Before that, I visited Ponte Vedra with my husband at the time, who was from Jacksonville. I met him in London. We lived in South Ponte Vedra.
Q: Where in Ponte Vedra Beach do you live now?
A: In L’Atrium. I bought the house I live in now as a studio in 2000 for my art. But now it is my residence, too. I tell people I am not working at home, I live where my work is. I cannot work in a commercial studio. I have to have my personal environment.
Q: When did you first discover you were an artist?
A: I didn’t. I was born to paint, born to two artist parents. According to them, when I could crawl on the workshop floor, I got a marker and paper and liked to use them. I really grew up with art like other people breathe. I grew up painting. It’s as natural as breathing to me. You don’t learn to breathe, it’s something you do naturally.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I have a Ph.D. In history of art from Cologne University. My parents insisted on a university education, because they said learning has never caused harm. Learning can only be an advantage in your life. Learning hasn’t stopped for me. It doesn’t stop.
Q: Tell us about your newest learning challenge—writing a book with your co-author, Naum G. Itkin, M.D., Ph.D.
A: For the last 10 years I learned about psychology, neurology, brain science and developed deeper insights into the origin of my creativity. That was so interesting that together with my co-author we decided to write it down and make it a book, to share the knowledge with other people.
Q: Neither you or Dr. Itkin are native English speakers. How challenging was it to write a book in English?
A: It was like climbing the north wall of Mt. Everest. The most challenging slope of the world’s highest mountain.
Q: What does the book revolve around?
A: One of my paintings, which is in the lobby of the Davis Building at Mayo Clinic. It’s called “Give Me Wings.” It depicts butterflies and the theme is uplifting and positive. I like that each butterfly is very individual. They are not natural butterflies, especially when you look at their eyes, they are stylized. At the time I was painting them, they were not people for me. Years later, through psychoanalysis, I realized they were unconscious personifications of my family and myself. The proof is in the book.
Note: Schuenke and Itkin will discuss their book, “Echo of the Unconscious,” during a power point presentation 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 14 at the Ponte Vedra Beach Branch Library. Schuenke will also speak about her art, including her oils and watercolors that will be exhibited in the library entryway during January. The program, to be held in the Friends of the Library Room at the library at 101 Library Blvd., is free and open to the public. Copies of the book will be available for purchase.