Artwork and jewelry representative of Sue Priest’s artistry.
For this mountain artist, art and nature go hand-in-hand
By Julianne Homokay
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
“Sue Priest is an artist and ecologist,” opens her biography on the Mountain Arts Network website. Nowhere is this more evident than in her stunning, environmentally inspired creations.
Priest’s interest in nature began at an early age. She was born in Tennessee, but her family moved around quite a bit, landing in southern Idaho where she would spend hours roaming the fields. In high school, her family moved to Southern California, touching down in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. On her website (suepriestinnovations.com), Priest describes this transition: “[My] connection with the natural earth was abruptly gone and replaced with the hard, ugly pavement of city life.” Art became a way for her to maintain her connection with nature, and also “art gave me a place to be and to belong.”
After a stint at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles and a false start as a singer/songwriter/electric bass player, she moved around from place to place, working a series of jobs that held no interest for her. She never lost her interest in art and nature, however. On a trip to New England to visit an art school in New Hampshire, Priest ended up falling in love with the neighboring state of Maine. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Orono to complete a master’s degree in ecological restoration at the University of Maine.
This degree led to her having a wealth of work experience in the field of ecology. But, after she was subjected to a hostile work environment during a stint working as a wetlands scientist in South Dakota, she returned to Southern California to regroup. Her parents had moved to Running Springs by then, which is when Priest became a mountain resident.
Priest works in several different media. Many of her acrylic paintings have environmental themes, but she is limited only by her imagination, often venturing into abstract approaches as well. Her mixed-media pieces may include acrylics, pen and ink, and pastels applied to non-traditional canvases like rusted tin. Her copper jewelry has a southwestern feel to it. And she’s also an accomplished nature photographer.
Priest seems most passionate about a genre of art called “copper flame painting,” a style of art that employs heat treatment, and sometimes acid, to create color, design and image on sheets of copper. “Copper is a very unique metal,” she says. Sometimes, she’ll start by washing the surface of the metal with acid to create a blue-green patina, but other times she’ll take a torch straight to the copper sheet. By using varied temperatures, she can create 10 to 15 different colors as she’s manipulating them into an image. “Honestly, that’s what sells the most for me; I sell them faster than I can get them out there.”
Locally, Priest’s art is on display at the Mountain Arts Gallery in Lake Arrowhead Village (mountainartsnetwork.org). She’s also had a busy summer attending festivals, beginning here on the mountain at the Rotary Club’s Art & Wine Festival in Lake Arrowhead. She went on to participate in festivals in Reno, Nev.; Mammoth Lakes, Calif.; Steamboat Springs, Colo.; Crested Butte, Colo.; and Tahoe City, Calif.. “It’s inspiring to see other people and their art,” she says. She especially enjoys visiting Taos and Santa Fe, N.M., an area in the United States that is a mecca for artists. “I come home with a bazillion ideas and not enough time.”
Priest has a simple goal for her career: to “maintain a decent living as an artist.” This is the first year in which she feels she’s accomplished that. “I don’t care if I ever become famous. I don’t make art for that reason,” she says. For Priest, art isn’t about the end result – it’s about the path you take to make it. It’s about living in the moment, and being OK with that.
“Art is a balm for the soul,” she says. “It grounds me and keeps me sane in a crazy world.”
For more information on Priest’s artwork, jewelry and photography, visit www.suepriestinnovations.com.