Playing with mysterious light both physically in her studio and in paint has had remarkable results for painter Suzanne Hughes Sullivan. Her passion for still life offers viewers near-endless varieties of harmonic compositions that are timeless and sure to delight.
Capturing the phenomena and luminance of light as it reflects off forms and shapes is a vital skill possessed by some of the best contemporary — and historical — artists. Still life in particular demands acute observational qualities. Indeed, a skillfully executed still life will demonstrate an artist’s ability to represent light, texture, and color.

Suzanne Hughes Sullivan, “Still Life with Cantaloupe and Figs,” oil, 24 x 18 in. (c) Suzanne Hughes Sullivan 2015

Light is the primary point of inspiration for painter Suzanne Hughes Sullivan, so naturally the artist has gravitated toward still life despite her love of landscape. The genre has also given Sullivan a particular visual and compositional language that has yielded outstanding works. “Part of the draw to still life is my fascination with the endless variety of harmonic compositions I can create using a diagonal grid system,” she writes. “It’s like a secret geometric language and the key to dynamic picture compositions.” Combining that with her ability to capture light, Sullivan’s still life paintings establish strong emotional connections with her viewers, and not just for their technical proficiency.

Suzanne Hughes Sullivan, “Copper Reflections,” oil, 11 1/2 x 14 1/2 in. (c) Suzanne Hughes Sullivan 2015

Each of these features comes to the fore within Sullivan’s magnetic “The Fruits of Summer.” “In everyday life, I’m the most excited and inspired by the transient nature of light that catches me by surprise,” Sullivan writes. “The Fruits of Summer” appears to illustrate this concept well. The subject is familiar, but Sullivan has elegantly captured it at a moment of profound beauty. Resting on a beautifully finished wooden countertop, the viewer finds a group of juicy, vibrant, and ripe red tomatoes. The strong rays of a bright sun enter the picture from a window to the left, out of view. Surrounding the tomatoes are three stainless steel hand-cranked grinders. The arrangement of objects encourages one to conjure up an ominous narrative, one in which the tomatoes end as liquid rather than solids. The range of interpretations seems endless, perhaps recalling nostalgic feelings of grandma’s kitchen, but even so, the technical mastery and photographic realism are commanding in themselves. Every shade and grain in the wood countertop is imaged with outstanding clarity, along with the sheen of the steel and the subtle gradations of red within the tomatoes.

Suzanne Hughes Sullivan, “Classic Cups,” oil, 10 x 8 in. (c) Suzanne Hughes Sullivan 2015

Of her creative process, Sullivan continues, “Many times I begin with the design and lighting of a still life composition in my studio using objects that will not spoil and light that doesn’t change. I love the clarity of detail that painting from life affords me. Many times moments of inspiration come as the result of lighting that is very transient and the still life subjects are subject to spoilage. In those cases, I don’t have the luxury of painting a detailed studio painting from life. I need to work as quickly as possible to set up an agreeable composition and execute an oil sketch.”
Discussing “Fruits of Summer,” Sullivan says, “I was spending the weekend at a friend’s farm and came downstairs in the morning to a stunning display of raking light on the subjects. I didn’t have my paints with me, so I took scores of photos of the grinders and tomatoes in many positions. The design composition aspect of this painting was quite complex, but I wanted to make it appear harmonious and effortless. The positions of the grinders’ handles are designed to lead the viewer’s eye on a dance through the picture plane.”

Suzanne Hughes Sullivan, “Appealing Oranges,” oil, 20 x 13 in. (c) Suzanne Hughes Sullivan 2015

Although she still considers herself an emerging artist, Sullivan has already established herself as one to watch. “I expect over the next five years my style will deepen and mature,” she writes. “Still life will continue to be my primary genre, but I can’t predict exactly what my evolution will look like.” You’ll just have to stay tuned.
To learn more, visit Suzanne Hughes Sullivan.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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