Alumnae Spotlight: Susan FatehMarch 6, 2014
Susan Fateh is a Scottish-Iranian artist whose history with the workshop is long and rich. As an artist alumna, former staff member, and longtime friend, she’s found a way to stay involved with the Workshop since she first started pulling paper here in the 1980s. Now based in Italy and Scotland, Susan has coordinated and designed all of our international Summer Art Institute workshops for the last 10 years, finding exquisite sites in Tuscany, Italy and the west coast of Scotland for us to send students for nine-day printmaking intensives.
This week we unveiled an extra-special workshop in September, held at an artist’s retreat outside exotic Marrakesh, Morocco. This unique course with WSW co-founder Tana Kellner is Susan’s way of celebrating WSW’s 40th anniversary, and she spoke recently with us about her own multicultural experiences and how she strives to make our overseas classes a “cocoon” for artists.
How did you get involved with the workshop and start coordinating our Europe SAI classes?
It was so many years ago! It was about 1983, maybe, when I moved to the States. I’d been wanting to make paper for years, and I heard about the workshop so I took a weekend course with Tana and then I asked if I could volunteer in exchange for a bit of time making my own paper. I did a lot of sheet-making for WSW. Much later I’d moved to Italy and [co-founders] Ann and Tana and I had remained very good friends, and they were interested in doing an overseas course. I found a space in Italy and we were lent a printing press, and the course took off!
Why is WSW a special place for you?
It’s just such a supportive environment. When I worked for a Workshop it was in the early days. Everybody really believed in the vision of the workshop despite how young it was, and everyone tried to do as much as they could to keep the place together, just like they still do today. There’s a real sense of community that comes out of that.
It’s quite fitting that you coordinate these workshops for us. You’ve had quite a multicultural upbringing and international experience yourself.
Yes, well, my mother was Scottish and my father was Iranian. I spent my first 11 years in Iran, growing up in between Tehran and the Caspian sea, and the next 11 in Scotland. I lived in Portugal in a year when my mother moved there; I went to Paris for a year, worked as an au pair and spent time at a seminal printmaking studio called Atelier 17. Then I came to the States to visit my brother for a few weeks and somehow stayed for 18 years! I was mostly in Brooklyn and did a of prints and works on paper.
Later, I had been going to Italy once or twice a year for a while: I’d had commissions in Italy and loved it over there. I moved there officially when my son was seven months old. Starting last year I now spend several months out of the year in Scotland–he’s going to school there now.
Can you share with us something about your own art practice?
It’s been more sporadic in recent years; when I first moved to Italy I spent time with my son. I’d just put him on my back and go to India for three months! But most of it was abstract, working as much as possible with organic materials and forms. I really like etching because you really get into the plate, you can work it a lot and it ends up looking quite sculptural and the prints end up quite dimensional. So it was a lot about materials and working with movement. I’ve done a lot of one-of-a-kind artist’s books. Lately I’ve been more into handmade paper.
I spent some time in Jordan and Petra as well, and I mention that only because I drove on the King’s Highway, which is mentioned in the Old Testament. I mean, this is an ancient road. You’re in and out of these incredible valleys and it’s just like going through the pages of a giant handmade paper book. The recent work I’ve sent you is based on Petra.
I love that your stories are peppered with all the places you’ve spent time.
It sounds terrible, or like I’m showing off, but that’s what I’ve done, you know? I’ve been invited back to places like Petra and Jordan to teach workshops. I’ve been very lucky to have those opportunities, and people have been very gracious to me.
Has your constant exposure to new places impacted your work?
It definitely has in the sense of having a visual impact. My colors have definitely come from the beautiful places I’ve seen.
Do you think the geography or culture of an environment can have a relationship to creative output?
Oh yes, I think you can be hugely affected by it. Maybe in your work you’re either embracing or trying to get away from your environment!
What do you think makes a good workspace or learning environment?
Well, a place should speak to you. But the number one thing is: people have to feel comfortable. And it has to have a beauty to it, whether that’s a luscious Tuscan landscape or, last year, the austerity of the West Coast of Scotland. I have no doubt Morocco will equally inspiring.
What’s your goal in setting up these classes for artists?
Whoever does these overseas workshops is really unplugging from their daily lives and chores and jobs and families. We give them a cocoon. And what I try to do in looking for locations is to find places where you get a deep sense of the culture around you. It should be a treat; a full experience. A lot of people end up doing whole series of work based on what they’ve been exposed to in those 10 days, on what they’ve seen and learned. And lots of friendships are made.
We’ve been holding workshops in Italy for years, but in 2013 you took us to a lighthouse in Scotland. How did you come up with that?
I looked at castles and estates–everything you’d think was appropriately Scottish–but then I was just browsing and I thought, what about a lighthouse? I looked at all the lighthouses in Scotland and only about two of them were feasible for us; then I went and visited the Covesea Skerries Lighthouse and it was fabulous! I called up Ann and said, Can you do a course in a lighthouse? It’s a very unusual opportunity! Imagine being in a lighthouse where there are more sheep than anything else! Where sheep don’t get off the road for you, they just look at you! Imagine being stuck out on the west coast of Scotland when this amazing skyline making wonderful art. It’s really special.
And this year you’re taking us to Morocco!
Because this is the 40th anniversary of the Women’s Studio Workshop, I thought it would be great to offer something really special. Morocco is exotic and full of art and craft. Al Maquam is an extraordinary artists’ enclave, built by a Moroccan artist who has done very well and has really wanted to give back to the creative community there.
What’s your dream list of places you’d like to have a WSW workshop?
I would love to do Portugal. And Croatia would be really great. I wish we could do India –I’ve spent a lot of time in South India–but that’s too far to travel from the states for only a nine-day course.
Any last thoughts as we celebrate 40 years of WSW and 10 years of international workshops?
The whole program is something that we’re burnishing all the time. Like we’re burnishing this precious stone with each year, and each year it glows a little more.
Questions about our international classes? Call us at 845-658-9133 or email info (at) wsworkshop.org.