Art With a Healthy Dash of Theatrical Irreverence and Razzmatazz

Circus life can conjure up a variety of meanings for people, depending on their experiences with this cultural phenomenon. I used to sarcastically say that something was a circus, meaning that it was chaotic, until I Iearned that circuses are actually more organized than your average live music show, for example. But I won’t give away all the secrets; there’s something attractive about not knowing what goes on behind the curtain. The mystery is what brings so many of us back to the show, again and again.

Join Artist Susan Lenart Kazmer and learn how to add
stylish color to your metal jewelry. Learn how to layer
colors, alter surfaces, and more.
Photo by Jen Cushman.

Found object artist Susan Lenart Kazmer appreciates the eclectic nature of the circus, specifically the characters that make it possible. She talks about her mixed-media art projects that focus on the circus and much more in Cloth Paper Scissors (get your copy here to read the feature article); and in this excerpt, she shares inspiring advice on telling your own story.

Until next time,

Artist Profile: Susan Lenart Kazmer by Susie Monday 

According to Susan Lenart Kazmer, working from one’s personal history, from the actual objects and artifacts of one’s everyday life, is what makes the work matter. It is what makes the art speak authentically, whether that work is commercial or personal.

“To put together a body of work, it needs to come from the inside out. We all have our own talismans in our homes, in our garages, on our shelves. If you use your own things, altering and combining them in your art, your work becomes something that no one else can duplicate. That will become your body of work as an artist.” (Share this article on Facebook)

Susan’s metal-and-more figures, her found-object mixed-media jewelry, and her retail line of charms, fittings, and craft supplies tell her story. It’s a story inspired by her life: visits to Chicago’s rough-and-tumble Rush Street in her teens, her work and travel as a collector and vendor of ethnographic sculpture and jewelry, and her ability as an artist to tap into subterranean streams of character, meaning, and image. Susan’s actual voice is a match for her work: raspy, a bit ragged, full of wit and experience, with a healthy dash of theatrical irreverence and razzmatazz.

The Opera Singer, Circus Troupe Series (16"L × 5"W × 5"D). This figure carries a collection of
removable and wearable jewelry. Photo by Denise Andersen.

Susan studied fine art at the Art Institute of Chicago and Southern Illinois University, where she focused on metals in combination with fiber, mixed media, and found objects. But she says her real education was on the road, traveling and studying, and dealing in ceremonial objects from Asia, Africa, India, and the West Indies. “I studied different cultures, I went to Thailand … I collected objects that were affordable, and then I bought and sold objects to support my traveling,” Susan explains. “I did a lot of my studies on talismans, relics, the objects from these cultures, and the people who were loved and cherished, and then one day I said, ‘I’m tired of borrowing from other cultures; I’m an American and I want to investigate the objects that tell American stories.’”

When Susan was studying and dealing with ethnographic objects, she was also studying their construction; she saw how things were bound together and took inspiration for her own work.

Susan credits her desire to include real meaning in her work as the most important factor in determining its success and power. “I’m interested in objects that have a bigger meaning than themselves,” she explains. An example is her work with prayer boxes. “I like taking dictionary definitions, tying them together, and then binding the words into a piece of art. Even if I can’t see the words, I know the words are in there. In India, women would make these prayer boxes with words, and they inspired my prayer boxes. The thoughts are private and you may not see the words once the art is completed, but by being there the words add meaning to the piece.”

Susan’s talisman pieces incorporate a wide and wild assortment of
objects. This one includes vintage dice, nuts, screws, washers, pencils,
crystal drops, vintage light bulbs, charms from her Circus line, a wire
cage, handmade bezels filled with ICE Resin (Susan’s signature
two-part epoxy resin), a cage charm from her handcrafted charms line,
fibers, and more—all created by hand and all using her signature
wire-wrapping style. Photo by Michele Monet.

For those starting to use found objects in their mixed-media art, Susan advises, “Look at the object as an artist, look all the way through things. Don’t look at a pencil as a pencil, but as a piece of wood. What can you do with it? Drill it, burn it, glue onto it—a number of things.” Susan explains, “In my teaching, if everybody in a class is given a pencil to use in their work, I have found that everyone will use that pencil in a different way.”

Susan emphasizes that personal meaning is what adds power to art. As she writes on her website, “The magnitude of energy carried with a found object from its previous life can be seen, felt, and touched. When you close your eyes and hold the object in your hand you can feel whether the user enjoyed, neglected, or cherished it. Fear, happiness, struggle, and strength are also feelings embedded in an object. My job as an artist is to take the found object and present it in a new and unexpected way.” ~S.M.

Read the complete article in Cloth Paper Scissors; and get your “Susan Lenart Kazmer Enameling Kit” here while supplies last.

Also, we're giving away a FREE copy of the newest issue of Paper Art (formerly I {Heart} Paper). Enter here, and good luck! 


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