For The Love Of Color – Painter Indivi Sutton’s Artistic Journey

Kacey Perez

December 19, 2022

Indivi Sutton, photographed by Petrina Tinslay, courtesy of Saint Cloche.

Creating beauty with intention has become an art form as we continue to adapt to the fast paced world built around us. For Indivi Sutton, everything is creative, but is done so with a deep connection to the memories in her life and the natural world. From a very young age, she was taught not to just look at color, but how to feel it and connect with it, leaving her with the ability to create visual journeys for her audience. This appreciation for color is easily seen throughout her work and is something that made me pause and absorb. It is simplicity at its finest. 

Hi Indivi. We’ve been excited to feature you and we are thrilled to share your story with our audience. Can you start us off by telling us a bit about yourself? Where are you from originally, where you are now, the journeys that led you there and how you got your start as an artist?

I am a New York City girl through and through, and I’m sure that the infusion of the wonders that living in New York exposed me to unconsciously mold my creative self. From kindergarten I was at the Rudolf Steiner School, first in Massachusetts, then on 79th Street. My education was an exploration of nature in every sense. We ventured into Central Park daily no matter the weather and experienced learning through a deep connection to the seasons and the nature of being. I walked home most days and popping into one of the museums along the park was part of the adventure, punctuated by a gelato in summer at Ciao Bella or a hot chocolate at Café Sabarsky. On Fridays, I would venture into a different section of the MET or MOMA or go via the Natural History Museum and spend hours under the whale or imaginings of the incredible dioramas. All these mini adventures where finding my way with amazement and pleasure that were essentially all in my backyard. I felt I was always witnessing new wonders. I can remember when I was five, on a freezing morning waking through Central Park to go to school and artists Christo and Jeanne- Claude had transformed the monotone hues of gray and brown winter color of Central Park with flowing and vibrant orange fabric, in one of the world’s largest works of art “The Gates”. The power of the overwhelming orange evoked within me, the feeling of warmth, excitement and how a color embraces and projects the energy that was abundant all around. And then it snowed. The entirety of Central Park became still,  as I walked the familiar paths I was transported into a world of white and orange. 

I have lived in a journey of creating all my life and living in the world that’s essence for me is a sensory experience that has nourished my being. The understanding of color and meaning is the heart of Steiner Education. This exploration through drawing, painting, and creating became not something I did, but something I felt. Rudolf Steiner is rooted in the philosophy that children should remain in the “Kingdom of Childhood” for as long as possible. The resonance of this philosophy was that we were shown how to connect with nature and all her expressions. We went outside rain or shine to feel and be with Mother Nature in all her wonders. This opened within me a love of color which became not an externalized view, but something I felt deeply through memories that would transform into light and tones.

When I was fourteen, I moved to Southampton, New York on the North Fork of  Long Island. There I met Paton Miller, an American Contemporary Painter who became my first mentor. His work is an extension of who he is. It embodies his incredible mind and stories. Paton allowed me to realize that painting is not something to be precious about, but something you need to connect to with your very being. Living between New York and Long Island, there is a rich historical art community from the mid 1800’s. The Parrish Art Museum was founded in 1898 and was then relocated in 2012 to Watermill showing the collection in natural light, a rare achievement of the beautiful modern space. I was awarded my first art prize from The Parrish, which perhaps was the first recognition of what may have been in my future!  From the surroundings of mesmerizing environs, there were many ways to develop my creative self; classes at the Museums, summer programs in theater at Shakespeare & Company, dance at Jacob’s Pillow, and the amazing intensive programs at Rhode Island School of Design, I had incredible exposure to so many ways to see the world.

Photography by Petrina Tinslay

I moved to live in Sydney to be close to family and soon after studied at Sydney College of the Arts. I experienced incredible creative and conceptual growth during my foundation year at the Callum Park Campus, which was an inspiring environment built from sandstone in the 1870’s, previously used as an hospital for the insane until occupied by the University of Sydney. The lecturers embodied the creative essence of allowing freedom in learning. Then the world changed, and not being able to study face to face, I craved intimate learning. I reached out to Antonia Mrljak, a contemporary abstract painter and began to work as her assistant. Her generosity of spirit has been instrumental for me trusting my process and experimentation. Helping me see a world beyond the literal, becoming one with my emotions and holding them close to my heart, then connecting that translation to my painting on the canvas has been the essence of what I learned from her that I carry with me. With the ebb and flow of the past few years my creative journey has been one that has taken me to places I never expected. Once I began creating consistently, what became evident was that this voice was always there, my connection with color and emotion is my expression. In 2020 I entered the ‘Little Things Art Prize’ hosted by Saint Cloche, the gallery which now represents me. Kitty Clark invited me to contribute to a group show that December and then to produce a solo show for June 2021. For the show “At This Moment” I produced 21 works, each piece connected to a moment in time through color and form. My hope was for the audience to connect and stand there with me in their own memory. I am full of gratitude that Kitty took the risk to fill her whole space, that sits on a very exposed corner in Paddington.  More than anything, Kitty believed in me. Mentors have been a key part of my journey. Without them, I would not stand so strong and have somewhere to fall. 

“My voice as an artist always needs to connect with meaning. Overtime that meaning becomes a conscious expression as the work is revealed and my relationship with the process evolves.”

It has been a whirlwind  since then….I had my second solo show at Saint Cloche this June, “ONE” the intention of the show focused on the works themselves being an expression of an in breath, where natures density and human emotion and experience manifest in stillness.  Just recently I completed three, 2.5 meter paintings for Sydney Contemporary at Carriageworks, this past September. Something that I only imagined in my wildest dreams. Creating the large scale works that were presented as a diptych and large work that allowed me to delve into the interpenetration of our consciousness on and the world around us, through Goethe, where he writes of a more compassionate and intimate connection to nature. 

Do you stick to one medium in your work? Have you ever, or do you ever, work with other mediums?

As I child I loved to use materials in which I could lose myself and the predictability of the outcome, like staining a piece of paper with watercolors or using pencil or crayon shavings to rub and blur. There is something about the softness and stillness that resonates with my voice as an artist. 

Indivi Sutton testing colors. Photography by Petrina Tinslay.

In 2019 I came across pigments in a shop in Venice. Once I began using them I found there was nothing else that enabled me to achieve the movement and layering on the raw line surface. The pigment powders hold the presence of nature and vital energy. Initially the translucent qualities are dreamlike and come to life by building tone and perception. The pigments have allowed me to explore colors as entities themselves and to build the colors to connect with my sensory intuition and ultimately the voice of the work. I am deeply drawn to the texture of raw linen that is something that remains in the final product of these works. 

Photography by Claudia Lowe.

Take us through your creative process. How do you start with an idea and turn it into a piece of art?

My voice as an artist always needs to connect with meaning. Over time that meaning becomes a conscious expression as the work is revealed and my relationship with the process evolves.   

Treating the surface as I would watercolor paper, allowing the color its own expression and movement and being open to unspoken outcomes allows the work to become its own. Once I begin, the pigment really navigates the amount of time spent, layering, and pausing. But that is how life is, layers of discovery and reflecting.  

How did you go about developing the style you have within your art?

What is pivotal in developing my style has been the conceptual expression of the way the external translates to my inner world and becomes the  work. What I hope for is a connection that resonates with the viewer as they share the experience, and it evolves into more than art.

Indivi Sutton in her studio. Photography by Petrina Tinslay.

Color plays a major role in your work. Describe its importance to each piece you create.

The colors that emerge onto the canvases for each work are formed from deep contemplation and observation with my surrounding world, the universal language of absence and presence, remembrance, and of hope and healing and essentially of being human. 

The colors are of nature, and the hues conjured from my internal and external world; tones that surround and remind us of our connection to being, for instance the transitions of feeling the sky as the sun sets and the full moon rises to illuminate the ocean, greens that whisper to the soul that it lives resonating life itself and connects to the golden light of humanity as one.

My education began at a Rudolf Steiner School, first in pre–K in Massachusetts then into kindergarten in Manhattan. The ethos is to live fully emerged in the kingdom of childhood for as long as possible, by connecting with nature and all her expressions. Understanding color was intrinsic to the experience; through celebrating the seasons with a deep understanding of how light and color penetrate our beings. We were given one color at a time, first in watercolor paint where we learned to fill a whole page with one color at a time almost as a meditation, and then used wax crayons to write and illustrate one book for all our lessons. I believe this engagement with fully appreciating the expression of each color in its pure form is why I have a sensory relationship with color and how I feel it so deeply, not just seeing, but feeling the tones that live within an object, element, or place.

Photography by Claudia Lowe.

Tell us about a real moment in your life that led you to become the artist you are today.

Working with Antonia was pivotal really, it was a Friday afternoon and I had been assisting her for a few months, she had been encouraging me to paint but I had not entirely embraced the courage to commit to my own work. She simply said, “don’t come back on Monday unless you have some work to show me.”  I respected her so much that the fear of disappointing her was bigger than my fear of myself, so I got on with it and as they say the first step is the hardest one to take. She is truly fearless and embraces life and creating with the gusto that manifests in the energy of her work and as much as we are very different, she gave me the push to believe in myself. 

Do you have a studio space? Can you describe it for us and tell us why it makes it an inspirational place for you to work?

I was working from home and have recently inhabited a space that gave me the freedom to create the large scale works for Sydney Contemporary. The ceilings are 7 meters high, and the light infuses the space with a beautiful energy that allows me to see the pigments with the movement of the light revealing their depth of color during the day. I feel so grateful to have a space that allows me to move around and with my work as it comes to life as that is so much a part of the process for me. 

“For me, as a woman and as an artist, my creative expression is who I am and what I do, like breathing. I connect not only with the process of creating but the world in which art lives, the history, people, places, writings, fashion and nature.

Where are some of your favorite places to draw inspiration from?

Inspiration is connected to the fluidity of the memories and the sensory language of the places and feelings that have become a part of my being. My connection and love for New York where I was born and lived until recently is a continual presence in my work, her energy is a part of my soul. New York is intrinsic to my love of fashion,art and culture. 

Photography by Claudia Lowe.

Growing up,”wanderlust” defined my experience and I have absorbed that into my being.

I suppose the idea of experiencing life in a very sensory way was the motivation and there would always be a trip in the works, even random  road trips up to Vermont to stay in an unwinterized fisherman’s cottage- the eerie gray landscape is something  I still feel. As memories became re-imagined places resonating with the fiber of my being to be brought to life on the canvases.

Living in Sydney and Australia is now where I feel my roots growing, it is where my family are from and a place that has always resonated within my being as a place to belong.  I am deeply grateful to live in such a soulful place where I am surrounded by the most astounding natural world and deep culture.  I know that this energy is impacting my work, as I feel myself bonding to the essence of being here.

After the whirlwind that has been the last three years for my art career, I have taken myself on an art adventure, to pause and be. I saw the Venice Biennale in 2019 and knew I wanted to return to this mythical city and see the 2022 Biennale, it has been transformative. I went to visit a family owned generational pigment manufacturer, they were so generous in sharing their love for these precious powders and I feel now even closer to the rarity of what I am privileged to work with as a raw material. I am now somewhat free form but with the idea of being open to what surrounds me as the essence of what will become the meaning for my work in the future. 

Indivi Sutton’s process captured by Petrina Tinslay.

In your point of view, how would you describe what it means to be a “real” artist?

For me, as a woman and as an artist, my creative expression is who I am and what I do, like breathing. I connect not only with the process of creating but the world in which art lives, the history, people, places, writings, fashion and nature.

For me, as a woman and as an artist, my creative expression is who I am and what I do, like breathing. I connect not only with the process of creating but the world in which art lives, the history, people, places, writings, fashion and nature.

Georgia O’Keeffe lives with me as my first mentor. Her work has been as much an influence of character and spirit. Her writings are inspirational, “I have things in my head that are not like anyone has taught me.”  Reading about her life and work gives me a sense of solace for knowing that I need to trust myself and give in to the process. Her connection to nature was so formative to her work and practice in showing nature as how it made her feel. 

What has been one of the proudest moments you have had during your art career?

I am so grateful for so much and being proud is something I have been lucky to know many times. One of the proudest has been standing outside Saint Cloche after my first solo show was hung. Peering in through the windows in the deep blue of the early evening and feeling the energy of the works move within me, I understood how the work has its own stories to tell and how I, like everyone who would see it, might find something to connect with that is more than they imagined. 

Photography by Claudia Lowe.

We love your sense of style. Have you always been interested in fashion? 

For as long as I can remember I have loved fashion. Nan Kempner, an American fashion icon, was a family friend. She was a woman who defined chic and spending time with Nan when I was little inspired me. I was fascinated by her collection of clothes and baubles, all color coordinated, in her elaborately Chinoiserie papered dressing room. I have fond memories of the MET Costume Institute exhibits that were inspiring with the cultivation of storytelling expressed through high end fashion, history, art and emotion. ‘China: Through the Looking Glass’ is one of my favorite exhibitions, showcasing Chinese art and film in western fashion. I was lost in the combinations of lilac and soft titan green, vibrant reds, and the lush pinks referencing the blooming of peonies and peach blossoms. 

When I have an opening show there is nothing like choosing a dress for me as it is a little like conjuring a concept for a painting. The dress needs to feel like it belongs with my intention for the show, so I can be amongst the work and feel at one. 

Who are your favorite fashion designers right now?

Finding clothes for me is particular and is eclectic. I love the combination of designers and pre-loved items. Some stores and designers that come to mind : Bianca Spender, Laurence Bras, Beare Park, and Matteau. Di Nuovo Paddington, Desert Vintage NYC , and Nice Piece in Paris, a favorite store in Sydney is MamaPapa in Avalon. Of course the list goes on Ulla Johnson, Isabel Marant, vintage Lanvin, Zaltig and Voltaire,  and my mum has kept clothes since her twenties so I have some amazing vintage pieces to borrow including original Collette Dinnigan slip dresses, some crazy Leonard and a shoe collection to die for. 

Outside of art, what are you most passionate about right now? 

Food, always ! It, like art, is my other big thing. I love to eat it, cook it, dream about it and create it. It’s as much of  an adventure as travel and a heartfelt source of inspiration. 

Photography by Petrina Tinslay.

What are your career plans for the future? Any big projects you can fill us in on?

I am so grateful for where I am that my plans for the future are that I continue to grow in my experience as an artist and human being. That through my work people are transported to their own place of meaning and feeling. 

I have met some wonderful people and had pivotal moments that will be exciting to foster in 2023. I see this year as coming together and I am excited for the potential that is in front of me. 

Follow Indivi Sutton @indivisutton, or view her latest exhibition at the Saint Cloche Gallery.