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Susan Schenk creates abstract paintings based on the poem 'Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep'

Wilsonville artist Susan Schenk says a poem about the soul's post-death journey inspired her 20 original works installed Dec. 2 at the City Hall of Oregon City as part of a program sponsored by the Clackamas County Arts Alliance to showcase local artists.

COURTESY PHOTO: SUSAN SCHENK - 'I am the sun on Ripened Grain' by Susan Schenk.

Schenk's vibrant and abstract collection of works will be up for viewing through April 7, 2022, at the city hall, 625 Center St., Oregon City.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Susan Schenk

Schenk, a former high school administrator who said she took up art as a hobby as she neared retirement, said the COVID-19 pandemic evoked frequent thoughts of the concept of death. She was moved to process this through visual means after happening upon the poem "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" of disputed authorship.

"There's a series of very visually compelling lines about what happens to people after they die," Schenk said about the poem. "Their spirit may just take on a different form, but we can feel that they are near us, that just in a different form. So I created a series of art based on the lines of the poem."

"There was a line that said, 'Don't fret about me, I'm still here, I'm in the sunlight on ripened grain,' which to me was a view, beautiful visual image. And so that piece looks a little bit like sun and it looks a little bit like an aerial view of a grain field."

Schenk said she felt as though spirits were communicating with her during the creative process, which she said included actively referencing lines in the poem while forming her compositions of acrylic, oil and watercolor paint as well as cold wax.COURTESY PHOTO: SUSAN SCHENK - 'I am the pull that turns the tide' by Susan Schenk.

"I felt like I had some muses hanging around, invisible muses that would sort of guide my hands or guide my eye, or make quiet suggestions about adding a color or a line to a piece of abstract work," she said.

Schenk said her early works were mostly representational and have progressed further into abstraction as she has begun to approach the craft as a mode of exploring and expressing her spirituality.

She recalled an art residency she held years ago at the West Linn Lutheran Church where she came to terms with the concept of communicating with higher powers through creating a program called "Art as Prayer and Prayer as Art."

"The genesis of that was that in churches, especially European cathedrals, there's a lot of art that is used to inspire prayer and I thought, you could also have prayer to inspire art," Schenk said. "But I'm not a real religious person. So I had to really explore the idea of what prayer is."

"To me, prayer was really communicating with something bigger than myself, and that's when I discovered all these little muses and spirit guides that are available all around us if you can tune into them," Schenk added. "So my art over the last two years has really evolved into expressing my own spiritual nature in art. Whether other people see it or not is not that important to me, the creating of it is important."

Schenk is showcasing this collection as the latest artist featured in the Alliance's Artist Exhibition Program, involving a rotation of original artwork "through 17 exhibit spaces in 10 public gallery venues in Clackamas County" including libraries, hospitals, health centers and city halls, per the alliance's website.

"I got into this program maybe six years ago and have been in it every year," Schenk said. "I'm a better artist, because of this program, because it teaches you how to prepare your art for exhibits and develop a body of work that is coherent and would make a good exhibit."COURTESY PHOTO: SUSAN SCHENK - 'I am the lah in lah de dah' by Susan Schenk.

To learn more about the program, including the lineup of artists for 2020-2021, specific venues, guidelines and more, click here.

Visit Schenk's official website here.


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