Who is Susan Lerner and what does she do?
I am a certified flavor chemist turned analog collage artist. My newfound love for this medium has become my passion. The process of cutting and then layering pieces into exaggerated forms is simultaneously meditative and stimulating.
When did you first start playing around with collage as an art form?
I have always been interested in photography but I wanted to try collage. I was put on a waitlist at the 92 Street Y in NYC for 2 years and in 2015, finally joined a mixed media collage class. I was hooked.
Who and or what inspire you and your work?
The photographic collages of David Hockney have always inspired me. These collages are very complicated, yet he makes them look so simple. Hannah Hoch was a photomontage genius. In terms of contemporary collage artists, I adore Eugenia Loli and Ben Giles. They are the real deal.
What’s your creative space like?
Since I live in NYC, space is at a premium. I work on my dining room table! I have to clean it off whenever we eat dinner - a good excuse to eat in front of the TV.
How would you describe your creative style or theme?
I call my work “Modern Nostalgia” and I construct unexpected, yet whimsical compositions into complex visual stories, exploring relationships in the world. The work embodies the attitude that anything is possible.
What are some key things you consider when creating pieces?
What makes my work unique is that I use my own photographs and collage them with vintage images to create surreal visual landscapes. I concentrate on color and texture, as well subject matter. In addition, I rely on original vintage images from books and magazines. The texture of the paper and color of the ink of the 1950’s and 60’s is so vibrant that I only use originals. I don’t use any scans or photocopies or Photoshop. I love how the glossy modern photos look juxtaposed with matte vintage images.
Without giving up all your secrets, what is your artistic process when creating a work?
I am motivated by the pursuit of the hunt for the image both in print and through the viewfinder. I love to scour tag sales and flea markets for material. This era holds memories of my youth and dreams of exploring far walks of life. Through my travels, I am always on the lookout for interesting things to photograph and use in my collages.
I find the process of hand cutting meditative. I use Fiskars scissors, which are on a spring. As a lefty, I find them comfortable to use for hours on end.
I work on 12-15 images at a time. I lay them out and go from piece to piece trying new combinations. This way, I stay interested and don’t get bored. I never rush a piece or force it. The process is the best part.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
David Hockney, for sure. But in the mean time, I have two groups I’m involved with. The first is my collage class at the 92 Street Y. The recurring artists and instructors in the class are talented, encouraging and nonjudgmental! I am also lucky to be one of the members of the international Instagram group @thecollageclub. We use the same book, one page a week. The members are so inspirational, creative and supportive. We hope to meet up in Norway next summer!
Aside from creating your artwork, what else keeps you busy?
I am a docent at the Museum of Food and Drink in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In addition, I am an assistant chef at a children’s cooking school. My family and dog keep me on my toes. Living in NYC, there are always opportunities to be culturally stimulated.
Any recent, current or future projects we should know about?
My first solo show is coming up in October at a beautifully refurbished garage turned art space in Washington, CT. In February, I’ll have my first solo show in NYC at one of the branches of the New York Public Library. I also have a food collage calendar being printed as we speak!
As far as the actual work, I have so many ideas, my head is going to explode. I’m obsessed with maps, so you will find me using them in a new series. I’ve also started to use a sewing machine to sew on paper. As a Flavor Chemist, my long-term goal is to incorporate the senses of taste or smell into my collages, perhaps as an art installation.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give someone looking to start making collage art?
On a whim, I submitted a photo to a juried contest and won a grand prize. This gave me the confidence to put my work out there. So, my advice is to take a chance and just go for it. Think outside the box. Flip everything upside down. But most importantly, enjoy the process.