Trinity Arts Interview Series: Glen Sutton

Our next featured artist in the interview series is Glen Sutton: photographer, musician, painter, and fan of opposable thumbs. To learn more about the what, why, and how behind his work, read on.

Q:  How do you handle artist’s block (times when it is hard to create)?

Glen Sutton: I think, that because I work in several different media (video, photography, music, painting, etc.), that I have a means to express myself in another vehicle if I find myself blocked. But If I am blocked I will step away from it and look at or do something completely different. I will pray about it, as I have been trying to invite and include the Creator in every step of the process. Sometimes I may forget to, out of old habits or just because I am so excited about or emotionally involved in the process that I don’t stop and formally pray over it, but find myself speaking to Him during the process at some point and remembering to intentionally include Him.

I may also look at similar works by artists I admire for ideas, motivation or methods. I may also resort to something I learned a long time ago that Brian Eno (an electronic music pioneer) does and that is to jot a variety of ideas or alternate directions/creative options on pieces of paper and put them in a box and pick them out and see if they help. Some examples may be: “think of doing the opposite of what you usually do,” “think organic,” “change your lighting – make it darker if its bright, or vice versa,” and so on. In the early 1970’s Brian Eno created a deck of cards called “The Oblique Strategies” (TOS) which allow you to pick a random card with a suggestion or even encouragement on it allowing you to rethink your project and your process. You can find more info on TOS here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oblique_Strategies and an online TOS randomizer can be found here: http://www.joshharrison.net/oblique-strategies/

Q: How do you stay motivated and disciplined as an artist in our distracting society?

GS: Well, sometimes distractions are helpful and can give you some variety and add spice to your creative life. I do not know what it would look like to focus only on my creative endeavors, as I’ve never really had that opportunity… I mean, having to work to support myself often takes precedent, and I expect more so for artists/creatives who have families to support. I just have my two cats and myself.

But to properly answer the question I’ll say that it comes down to the desire to break from the routine and feed the creative process… as a diversion from the “every day” of life, and so for me being creative, whether working on art or music or what ever, is my way of balancing life as best as I can. It can also be (and probably should be more frequently than it is) a means to worship the Creator from whom this gift comes. Setting time aside and deliberately being intentional about being artistic is just as important as being intentional about taking time to study, clean the house, walk the dog, etc. Not to say that it is a chore, but a necessity in the artistic life to just keep active, fresh and involved.

Q: What is the best advice someone has given you?

GS: To be comfortable being a dreamer. To allow myself the room to dream outside of my “head” and bring that imagination into what ever it is that I am creating.

Q: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

GS: To be honest none. And I do not say that to diminish our animal friends, but I absolutely love being a human being that God created with intent and purpose, and who He has given the opportunity to inherit His kingdom. Also, opposable thumbs are a plus in being an artist.

Q: Who/what has inspired you lately and/or locally (i.e. other artists, exhibits, shows, bands, designers, etc)?

GS: I have to say… wow… too many options to choose from. I think that everyone, to some degree, inspires me, and in ways that I cannot adequately describe. But there is always some music, photography, art, or film popping up giving me ideas, and yes there are certain artists who remain forefront in my mind who influence me. Some are locals and friends like artist John Tindel, electronic music duo Fader Vixen (Jeremy Frank and Toniet Gallego), and so on.

Some major influences over the years includes Russell Mills, David Sylvian, Gary Numan, Brian Eno, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Anton Corbijn, Laurie Anderson, Ingmar Bergman, Nalbi Bugashev and many many others.

Q: Have you worked in your medium in some sort of community lately, be it collaboration, brainstorming, etc? How has that environment affected the work?

GS: Yes, in my musical endeavors with my band mate Austin. I am used to working alone because it sort of just panned out that way over the years, but now working with someone helps me find ways to compromise during the creative process, as well as to be inspired by his perspective and input, even when it may seem frustrating at times. But typically it works out very well and I really enjoy the process.

I think it has shaped the direction of our particular musical style, but also leaves room for exploration into other areas not typical within our genre, which is great because I like pushing the envelope.

Q: What is one book/song/painting/piece/etc that has been enriching to your faith?

GS: Outside of the Bible, I suppose Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis has been enriching and helpful in putting my beliefs into a frame that makes it easier to explain to others, as well as to influence my creative process in that I now see some more opportunities to include my faith in my various art forms. I’ve always been influenced by and intrigued with illuminated manuscripts and religious iconography, and have been investigating them more and more lately. I am looking into the history and the development of the art form as it evolved over time to meet creative and spiritual needs over the ages.

Q: What is your connection to the Divine when you create? Does it resonate with you spiritually when you come up with new work?

GS: I wish I could say that I am always thinking of the Divine when I create, and maybe I am at a “cellular level” in that I am being obedient to my calling or vocation as a creative. I have been trying to be more intentional in connecting to the Divine in my creative process through prayer and asking His guidance in the process. I think we create out of a response to some stimuli, some need to create and perhaps that is the Divine Creator speaking to and through us, but sometimes, I think we don’t always go in the direction He intends, so I am trying to be more mindful of that.

Sometimes I step back from something I have created and think “there is no way that came from me alone!” and it is a humbling experience. And it is a joyful one too because it encourages me that my Creator is involved in my work and in me. I am ever grateful that He has allowed me the opportunity to use talents that He gave to me, and I hope that I am more active and intentional in involving Him.

Q: Describe your process behind the featured piece.

GS: This particular piece, Calling all Angels, was conceived of and painted in 2003 as the second in a series of five paintings focusing on communication to be presented with a playful sense of humor. The five paintings spanned from 2003 – 2004 and typically took a few days to a week to paint, but the process took so long because of work and other things in life getting in the way. I was also sketching and refining the ideas as I went along before committing to canvas, or in this case, wood panel.

This painting was inspired by a song of the same name by Jane Siberry and was an attempt to illustrate the idea that in times of trouble, human beings can often seek help from the unlikeliest of places. When I was first thinking of the title, I immediately had the image of an angel on a tin can and string phone calling itself.

The tin can phone is something most of us recall from our childhood and hence has a child-like innocent quality about it. But the phone only works when stretched tight so that the string can vibrate and carry the caller’s voice. So there has to be a tension involved. I was trying to illustrate that tension outside of the figure by using vibrant and turbulent colors and over-emphasized the slackness of the string between the cans. So in the image the futility of the figure’s actions hopefully becomes evident as it seeks to find solace or help from within itself.

The flimsy bug-like wings are meant to convey frailty and perhaps a sense of weakness and dubious angelic authenticity. So it suggests that the “angel” seems to believe that they are their own savior, their own refuge and help. So in a sense it ironically mocks or points the finger at self-help methods rather than seeking true divine help and intervention. This is, in a sense, an illustration of an empty prayer, yet, there is the hope that true divine ears are hearing the call for help, and so I made the colors in the “heaven” area above the figure’s head lighter, less turbulent and more vertical as if to suggest heaven reaching down to the “angel.”

I initially sketched the idea in my notebook and doodled notes about color, line thickness and so on. I began the painting by sketching the figure on the wood panel, and painting it in black outline. I then filled out the background trying to convey external stress and tension, as well as the “heavenly” openness in the top portion. Then I painted in the figure’s clothing and facial features to create an androgyny but focused on the “bruising” and expression in the face to express the very real nature of their distress, that they really are suffering. I didn’t want the figure itself to be mocked at all, because I wanted it to be loved or seen as lovable, and to remind us all of our frailty. I wanted the situation it was in to have a sense of humor to help convey the idea that we make mistakes but there is help out there, and it is in seeking help that we eventually can find help and rescue, even if it does not come from within ourselves.

More examples of my painting work can be seen at: http://glensutton.com/art and http://glensutton.com/6.html

I hope to redesign my website sometime in the near future.

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