Auburn gallery displays work by Lake Placid artist
AUBURN — When Long Island native Susan Hoffer started college, she intended to pursue a degree in chemistry with a goal of conducting cancer research. Like many college students, her plans changed.
“I was more interested in the fine arts classes I took and kept taking in college and realized my passion was in the arts,” she said.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching and studio art, moved to Syracuse, and began teaching. When her children went to college, she returned to earn her MFA in fine arts and has been painting seriously ever since.
But Hoffer never left her interest in chemistry behind. She spent a month this summer as an artist in residence at the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation in Chenango County, working with artists and chemists at the Golden Artist Colors manufacturing facility located next door.
“During my time there I experimented with various substrates, grounds, and Williamsburg paint,” she said. “It was a period of tremendous growth and learning!”
Hoffer, who lives in Lake Placid, is featured in a solo exhibit titled “Rural Voice Rising: Can Art Subvert Media’s Narrative?” on display at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn from Sept. 1 to Oct. 15.
Her paintings of North Country residents draw attention for her process as well as their descriptive titles and explanations.
An example: A painting of her father sitting on a couch, his hands signaling that he’s making a point during an intense conversation. The title: “Just vote — but not against your own interests.”
“This image was made a week before he died,” Hoffer said. “He told me that people in poor rural areas continually vote against their own interests, and that he hoped they ‘smartened up.'”
The paintings tackle serious topics through the eyes of Adirondack Park residents. The subject of “Reproductive decisions are complicated. #blackdoctorsspeaking” worries that restrictive laws states passed after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade will mean the death of some pregnant women because doctors must wait for approval to conduct live-saving surgery.
In “Connecting to the Protest,” the subject of that painting is writing a letter to U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik trying to convince her to “stand up to the 45th president.” A piece “‘I never felt unsafe until there was a target on my back’ #chinavirus” explains that the subject’s parents worry about her safety amid racist backlash over the coronavirus.
“I think a goal of the exhibition would be to challenge the narratives that are often believed about rural residents in my region,” Hoffer said. “I use the words and ideas of my sitters as they speak on weighty topics.”
In addition to painting, Hoffer teaches studio classes and art history at North Country Community College.
“We are a poor mountain college and often my students haven’t had access to the privileges wealthier and less rural communities offer,” she said. “It means a lot to me to contribute something good to the community where I live.”
And just like her students, Hoffer is still learning — from her students and from the chemists at the Golden paint factory. She applied for the residency because she wanted to research how different grounds affect her paintings.
“I was using the same oil paint with the same result and, even though I knew I could craft a good painting, I just wanted to learn new things,” she said in a video interview conducted during the residency. “I did a lot of experimenting on the surfaces with gesso and color, and that was really interesting to me. Just by changing up my ground, it created a whole new painting experience for me.”
Hoffer said she loved collaborating with the artists and chemists. “I learned why freezing my oil paint to both stiffen and slow the drying process works,” she said in an interview with the Schweinfurth. “I learned why refining the pigments differently is important and results in differing vibrancy, opacity, and translucence. Of course these different properties of oil paint are interesting to the painter.”