Suzy Arbor was born and raised in Vancouver BC and continues to live and work on the West Coast. She is a visual artist whose painting is predominantly representational with a focus on brushstrokes and qualities of light. Her work explores the tension between physical, digital, social and emotional spaces.

Suzy received her BFA from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 2003. She also studied art at the Universidad Polytechnica de Valencia as an exchange student in 2002. In 2005 she graduated from UBC with a Masters in Library and Information Studies. During this program Suzy completed a practicum at the library of the National Gallery of Canada.

Suzy has exhibited throughout the Lower Mainland and at times further afield. Most recently she has exhibited at The Plaskett Gallery, The Vancouver East Cultural Centre and at the 2012 Queer Arts Festival Curated Visual Art Exhibit. For more information regarding Suzy's past exhibits, please visit her Exhibitions page.

Her paintings are representational to varying degrees. Her figurative work focuses on how people present themselves within their communities, and the larger communities they are a part of. For example, her paper doll show explored being feminine within a queer community and being queer within a larger community where straightness is assumed. Her representations of spaces are often of human made environments but act as landscapes by creating a place for viewers to imagine themselves inhabiting. Her work addresses the ever evolving nature of human made spaces and the tension between physical, digital, social and emotional spaces.

In addition to building her art career, Suzy works part-time as a Librarian for the Vancouver Public Library.

Artist Statement

In my work, I focus on people and the spaces they find themselves in. My drawings and oil paintings are representational and often figurative. My focus on people is sometimes seen through representations of the people themselves and sometimes through creating a space for viewers to imagine themselves into. I am interested in the layers of understanding that images can reveal in our experience with them over time.

In my paintings I am drawn to fresh brushstrokes and exploring representations of light and dark. I find inspiration in the spaces I inhabit and the people I come across in my daily life. I am interested in the way people live and in finding beauty and insight in day-to-day living.

I am currently working on four ongoing bodies of work:

This Small Migration
This Small Migration is a series of paintings inspired by my commute from the Sunshine Coast to Vancouver. In this body of work I am documenting the moments in this journey when I am surprised by beauty. The paintings are about actively seeking beauty in the sometimes onerous day-to-day activities that make up our lives. For example, as I wait at the bus stop in a groggy stupor I am treated to the luscious blues of predawn light and the calm that comes with real silence. As I experience these moments I am folding beauty and the feeling of savouring into the necessity of making it to work on time.

This body of work began as an exploration of the tension between romanticizing libraries as a sacred space, and the pragmatism of using libraries as a service. I have painted the old book stacks in the Main Library at UBC that have now been replaced by an automated retrieval system. The paintings deal with capturing and archiving the feel of these spaces that were once open to the public but now exist solely as the system of their retrieval.

The paintings are very much about the physical experience of being in a library. Libraries serve the public not only as a service but also as a very important public space. This body of work is a reaction to the threat that public space in libraries could be considered obsolete as libraries move more towards digital collections and alternative storage methods. In these paintings I want to evoke a sense of nostalgia for a place that is no longer in existence and to create a visual space that people can inhabit, even though they can longer inhabit the book stacks that were the inspiration for the paintings. 

Audience Portraits
This series of paintings portrays audience members as an examination of collective experience. Looking back at the audience, the viewer is positioned at the front of the theatre and so the spectator becomes the spectacle.As the viewer responds to the paintings, the paintings seem to be responding to the viewer mirroring the cyclical response between performers and their audiences.

In the portraits, you can see the particular details of each person’s reactions. Bringing them together magnifies the collective emotion and reflects the experience of being in an audience and the contagion of laughter. In the paintings, as in almost any audience, there may be individuals who are not sharing in the collective experience. Some may not “get it”, some may be unimpressed or offended, and some may just take a little longer to process the information. In viewing this series of paintings you have the opportunity to notice the variation of what the audience members are experiencing, as well as the response of the majority.    

Clipping Files
Over the past couple of years the Vancouver Public Library has been discarding most of its newspaper clipping files. As the division that housed them has been changing its focus from "Newspapers and Magazines" to "Online Information and News" these files have become less relevant to the collection. While this was happening I asked if I could keep some of these files and selected the ones that were most visually interesting to me. I started by making drawings based on the images and articles that were collected in the files. My intention was to capture the feeling of looking through them, the feeling of a meandering foray into a particular subject area.  I wanted to archive the experience of using the newspaper clippings as objects.

As everything becomes more and more digitized in libraries (and elsewhere) the information is preserved but not the methods and experience of finding it. With the drawings and some of the original clippings I have created digital collages.  I did this to document my experience of looking through the newspaper clipping files. In general, digitizing information is a tightening exercise with the outcome being precision and streamlining.  In the digital collages I was attempting to use the process of digitizing as a loosening of my artistic practice, allowing myself to experiment with different ways of drawing. I was playing with the idea of disorganizing visual information to see what I might find.