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susan n. jarvis
Where most people would see a carton of eggs or a fidgety toddler, oil painter Susan N. Jarvis sees a story, brimming with life and meaning. Her stunning work conveys these stories visually through vibrant colors and rich textures.
Born and raised in Utah, Jarvis expressed her artistic tendencies early. As a two year old, she created her first masterpiece in red lipstick on her mother’s white chenille bedspread. While it didn’t quite receive the praise the young artist hoped for, Jarvis persisted in developing her interest in the arts.
As the sixth of seven children, she became a “dedicated observer of people,” Jarvis says. “When our family went to church we were not allowed to wiggle around and make noise, but my mother would pass out pencils and paper so that we could draw quietly. I drew what I had in front of me: people.” She learned to read facial expressions and body language and capture the personalities of the people around her through drawing and painting.
In school, she learned the extent of her ability to express herself with art. She sometimes struggled with academics, but illustrations and posters in the classroom often succeeded where essays failed. As a senior in high school, she saved her honors English grade by creating a mural across the back wall of the classroom to demonstrate what she had learned.
After high school, Jarvis attended University of Utah and took every art class she could, honing the skills she had already been developing since childhood. Before completing her degree, she married and moved with her husband to Iowa.
Jarvis quickly immersed herself in the joys and duties of motherhood in a home that was “full of art and music.” In fact, at one point the family started their own bluegrass band and performed in various venues for their own enjoyment. Though being a mother was a full-time job, and Jarvis worried that she would lose her artistic ability, she found instead that “My experiences as a mother enriched my work and enabled me to pay greater attention to detail.”
For 15 years, the family lived in sunny Southern California, where Jarvis had the opportunity to volunteer as an art and music specialist at local public schools. While living in California, she also fell in love with the beach and created her first plein air piece. “I was standing barefoot on the sand at 28th Street engaged in painting,” she recalls, “and although I had generously covered myself in sunscreen, I neglected to cover the tops of my feet. This sunburn was my official initiation into the ranks of plein air painters!”
In 1995, Jarvis moved back to Utah with her family, settling in Salt Lake City. There, she converted an empty bedroom into her first art studio. Though this was an important step in her artistic journey, the space had its limitations. The room was so small that she had to go into the hallway to see her work from a distance, and, she says, “I struggled to maintain the balance between painting, cooking, gardening and doing laundry and soon realized that for me, having a home studio was one big interruption!”
In 2000, Jarvis moved out of her home studio into the Rockwood Art Studios. Having a professional space and interacting with the 23 other artists there inspired her to pursue her art more seriously. She continued her education by reading art books and attending workshops with a number of acclaimed artists, including Quang Ho, Rose Frantzen, David Leffel, Sherrie McGraw, C. W. Mundy, and Jennifer McChristian. She filled sketchbooks and journals with paintings and drawings and explored various mediums.
Jarvis also began to enter her work into competitions, which allowed her to gain valuable feedback and narrow her focus. Limiting herself to oil as her medium and still life and the figure as her primary subject matter, she took classes at Hein Academy of Art, studied with Jeff Hein for a year, and refined her figure painting skills with Bryce Billings.
Her figure paintings reflect the love of observing people she developed as a child. Rather than featuring her subjects in traditional poses, her joyful portraits depict people in active, natural poses that reveal their personalities.
Similarly, Jarvis’ still life and figurative work are not simply arrangements of objects on a surface but painted narratives. “Each still life object I paint has to speak to me or have a story connected to it,” she says. “The titles of my paintings usually reflect that story.” She likes to forage in antique stores and thrift shops to search for unique trinkets and unusual objects that can become subjects in her paintings. As a result, her studio is full of old vases, sea shells, bird nests, bottles and historical objects from the west.
Along with painting her vibrant portrait and still life work, Jarvis teaches adult art classes in her studio and on location outdoors.
In 2018, Jarvis visited Terni, Italy to teach a ten-day workshop at La Romita School of Art. Aside from ng an incredible teaching opportunity, Jarvis says, “The scenery was spectacular and the towns and villages with their textured stone and ancient ruins were inspiring subjects to paint.”
Her art career was in full swing as she explored various art mediums including oil paint, acrylic and watercolor. She filled her sketch books and journals with paintings and drawings. In between family duties Susan painted plein-air images of the mountains and red rock country of Southern Utah.
Drawing from her 20 years as an art specialist in public schools and then as a teacher in a private school, she began to teach adult art classes in her private studio. “Teaching is my day job. I love inspiring students to explore the world of painting and drawing. It’s rewarding to see what they create, and exciting to watch their skills improve!”
Jarvis’ work has been published in Southwest Art, American Art Collector Magazine, Utah Music & Arts, and Artists of Utah. Additionally, thirteen of her works were purchased by the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah and are now part of their permanent collection.
Jarvis also belongs to Utah Artists, Women Artists of the West (WAOW), Oil Painters of America (OPA) and American Women Artists (AWA). For several years she served as the president of the Intermountain Society of Artists (ISA), and she chaired and conducted the first and second annual “Silver Lake Art Exhibit” for the Nature Conservancy of Big Cottonwood Canyon. “I believe that giving back to the community strengthens the arts and builds esprit de corps among my fellow artists,” Jarvis affirms.
Now in a new studio, Jarvis continues to paint her joyful narratives and teach oil painting classes and workshops. She feels that her mission as an artist is to create quiet, restful work by combining traditional painting with a nontraditional view of her subjects.
Corporate and Public Collections
Huntsman Cancer Institute, Salt Lake City, UT
Monarch Interiors, Salt Lake City, UT
Boise Psychological Services, Zane Nelson, PhD, Boise ID
Morgan, Minnock, Rice & Miner, L.C., Salt Lake City, UT
2019 Southwest Art Collector, June Issue, Editors Choice: “Artists To Watch, Up and Coming Talent”
2015 American Art Collector, September Issue, “The Great Outdoors,” pg. 96-97
2015 American Art Collector, January Issue, “Beyond The Ordinary,” pg. 86-88
2013 Utah Music & Arts, May/June Issue, “Susan N Jarvis, Local Artist”
2015 Artist’s of Utah, 15 Bytes Magazine, March Edition, “Fifty Shades of Red: Horne Fine Art and Sprague Library Exhibits Examine the Color Red,” by Ehren Clark (Feb. 27, 2015)