Susan Walp returns to Dartmouth as artist-in-residence

The painter and former guest lecturer has an exhibition featured in the Jaffe-Friede gallery this month.

by Elise Higgins | 4/18/17 1:00am

Peeking into the Jaffe-Friede gallery in the Hopkins Center this month, one will glimpse at the still lifes produced by Susan Walp, the studio art department’s current artist-in-residence. Walp currently has work displayed in the Hood Museum as well as the National Academy Museum in New York. Over her career she has received awards including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggeinheim Fellowship and a Bogliasco Fellowship. Additionally, Walp has served as a studio art guest lecturer at the College.

Colleen Randall, a studio art professor and member of the committee that selects the artists-in-residence, said that the department is extremely pleased to have Walp here at Dartmouth as an example for students but also as someone with whom they can communicate.

“The purpose of bringing professional artists to campus and having them work here for an entire term is to have them as a model for students of what it is to be a practicing artist in the world as opposed to an artist-teacher,” Randall said.

Previous artists-in-residence include mixed media artist Sonya Kelliher-Combs and conceptual artist Eric Van Hove. For students without prior exposure to the practical, post-graduate artistic world, the department hopes that hosting artists-in-residence can be an invaluable resource.

“We want to show students how this works,” Louise Hamlin, another studio art professor and committee member, said. “They can see that [artists] come to their studios and work every day just like other people.”

After her time at art school, Walp began working, and her art consisted largely of somewhat autobiographical figural images that depicted scenes from everyday life. However, her style eventually began to change.

“At a certain point, those paintings just came to their natural conclusion,” Walp said.

Unsure of what to do next, Walp began painting simple still lifes of singular apples. She began to appreciate the use of small space and found the work to be calming yet invigorating.

“I had really lost touch with how exciting working from observation could be because I had been working on the figure paintings largely from my imagination,” Walp said.

Walp said she originally thought that the still lifes would be a temporary thing in her art, yet she never stopped.

“They were just immediately so engaging for me in a way that the figure paintings no longer were,” Walp said.

Walp enjoyed drawing as a child and was eventually signed up for art classes. She continued to study art through high school and considered going to art school but ultimately decided to attend Mount Holyoke College for a liberal arts education.

Halfway through her time at college, Walp participated in a summer art program at Boston University where she was taught by American painter Lennart Anderson.

This summer program, along with the mentorship under Anderson, encouraged Walp to pursue art professionally.

“It’s a hard thing to explain,” said Walp about her decision. “I just knew that it was going to be the focus for the rest of my life.”

Walp said that her favorite part of painting still lifes is setting up the image which she will depict. She begins with an original idea but is also always willing to let go of that first inspiration if she feels the image moving in a different direction. Walp added that while she does aim to create a narrative when she arranges her still lifes, she also arranges the objects in a pleasing, interesting manner.

For example, Walp said she enjoys painting pomelos, a type of fruit similar to a grapefruit, but chooses to cut them open to increase visual interest. Walp also added that she adds in certain harsher elements such as forks or knives if she feels the fruit makes her still life too “sweet.”

Walp said that the interaction both with other artists as well as faculty and students is one of her favorite parts about being at Dartmouth.

Hamlin said that she thought Walp would be a great fit for Dartmouth, both as a professor and as an artist-in-residence, because of the care she puts into her work as well as her gracious personality.

Walp said that the balance between teaching and working on her own art was perfect for her because painting can be so time consuming.

“I didn’t feel like I was temperamentally suited to be a full time professor with all of the responsibilities that go along with that,” Walp said.

Now, as Walp returns to Dartmouth as an artist-in-residence, she can spend all day working on her art.

“Already I’ve been spending long days here,” Walp said. “I’m just really, really enjoying it.”

Although Walp is not currently teaching, she is still eager to interact with students. Walp said that as the term continues, she assumes her communication with students will increase. Hamlin added that the amount of interaction between the artist and the students depends on both parties. In addition to meeting with Walp, Hamlin also encourages students to visit the exhibit in person.

Redal Ram ’17, a gallery attendant, says that dozens of people come in during each shift to look at Walp’s art. Ram said that some students come in, but the majority of visitors are faculty or older community members.

The gallery showcases Walp’s recent work consisting of what Walp calls semi-restrospective still lifes. Despite Walp’s current preferences, she said that she is not opposed to experimenting with alternative styles of art.

“When I no longer feel new possibilities in that work, I’m sure that I’ll move to something else,” Walp said. “It’s not that I’m committed without reservation to that.”

Walp will continue to work on her art at Dartmouth and her exhibition will be displayed in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery until April 30.