SUSAN HALL | West Marin
Susan Hall is removing pottery from the kiln with large gray gardening gloves. The bowls she pulls out are still warm. “It’s like birth,” she says—though unlike human birth, the bowls’ gestation is a shorter and arguably more capricious process. “With ceramics, you can count on at least 10 percent blowing up,” Susan says, adding that making ceramics is an exercise in “the spiritual practice of unattachment.” Letting things go, which Susan tries to do in both art and in life, can produce the kind of wild abandonment that characterizes the one and a half acres that she and her husband Steve live on with their sweet and sleepy greyhound Daisy. On one single property alone, multiple micro-climates thrive: here are cacti and prickly pears; there are orchards of apple, peach, and pear trees among long, dried-out grass and overgrowth. Red and violet flowers emerge from ivy and rust.
“Her paintings and hand-shaped ceramics are as bright and colorful as the walls of her house. They feature the landscapes she lives in, as well as animals, boats, patterns, people, and crows in a tree—these subjects are remembered echoes of this place, a land for which she has a deep affinity.”
The land has changed over the years, as it does, and Susan, a painter, ceramicist, writer, and teacher born and raised in Point Reyes, has been here long enough to see that change, which is a privilege, she says. “Certain elements of this place were always in my art.” She grew up with her parents and sister in the house she still lives in, which is a Spanish-style home with terracotta walls, warm rose-pink floors, and Mondrian-meets-hacienda hues: cadmium reds and burnt siennas, dark yellows and cobalt blues everywhere.
At the turn of the century, Point Reyes was the center of communication for ships to shore, and Susan’s father was a radio operator for AT&T during World War II. He bounced calls in Morse code from the Pacific Ocean to Washington D.C. He was strict, she says, but he let her paint and make art. As a child, she sat in the corner of her family’s house looking out into the pasture, where livestock roamed, and she fantasized about an art studio on that very plot of land. Seven years ago, the imagined place of her childhood came to life: she and her husband Steve built a large art studio with a bright, open hall for her painting, and a smaller room at the end for her ceramics. Some may call this uncanny and cyclical—that her imagination is so intertwined with her art-making, that what she created in her mind as a child is now the art studio that shelters the creations of her later life. “Imagination is an indication that you have a spiritual life,” she says. She speaks in short but dense sentences. “Time, space, and place are everything.”
When we talk about spirituality, we aren’t talking about dogma or religion. Instead, we talk about Susan’s ability to be awed by the ordinary and to recognize mystery. She sees her role as an admirer, a believer, and a positive thinker who is as rooted in imagination as she is in experience and physical landscapes. “The whole world is alive and communicates to us if you’re willing to listen to it,” she says. Her paintings and hand-shaped ceramics are as bright and colorful as the walls of her house. They feature the landscapes she lives in, as well as animals, boats, patterns, people, and crows in a tree—these subjects are the remembered echoes of this place, a land for which she has a deep affinity, a last horizon. “I keep it really simple,” she says. She seeks to create beauty, not perfection, which is an important distinction for someone who sees beauty in flaws. She fondly remembers her mother’s colored Bauerware pottery in the 1930s and 40s that were cracked and broken—they made her feel at home, she recalls.
Susan is currently working on “a portrait of a tree.” Her lexicon is poetic evidence of her ability to see the peripheries, like chittering crows at dawn, fog-shrouded islands, and a fallen oak tree. A “portrait” is also a point of connection: a glance into the twinkling eye of a living thing, and Susan says this is why she makes art—to connect with the world and with other people. “The desire to make art is a gift,” she says. “Working hard is my part.”