is a fantastic, smile promoting artist in NYC. Her illustrations go down so smooth, a Shel Silverstein/Dr. Seuss blend with a dash of fashion and a sophisticated, playful back. So good. Some artists shy away from letting their work be a representation of their personality, but Soosan thrives at letting each piece show a piece of herself, be it an object, a head nod or passion – her work never feels labored, it feels loved. I talked with Soosan about the biggest inspiration in her life, her mother, her love of fashion and for good measure, a little Stephen Colbert.
Serial Optimist: Hi Soosan! When was the last time you laughed really hard, and why?
Soosan Joon Silanee: Great question! Thankfully there are many laughs in my life, but the last one I can remember was during my recent trip to London. My husband and I would walk around the city for hours and along the way we would sing silly pop songs. Thanks to Britney Spears, walking down the ever-so-humble Sloane Street was interrupted with our repeated chant, “You want a Bugatti, You want a Maserati, You Better Work B*tch!”
SO: Love it! Do you remember your first drawing or painting, as a child? Did you have a moment where your mother put something up on the fridge, and you were like, “This is just the beginning!”
Soosan Joon: It must have been when my uncle came to visit us from New York. I was around 13-years-old and had a lot of paintings and drawings hidden around the house. Art was never celebrated as a real and potential career for me, but my uncle was the first to make light to my parents that I am a talented artist and should be encouraged to pursue it.
My parents were immigrants and did not come to America to raise an artist. I was to be a doctor or dentist, a professional with a stable job… and any artsy interests were to remain a hobby. But luckily my uncle thought otherwise and wasn’t shy to communicate this to them.
SO: Can you describe your artistic style in three sentences? Go!
Soosan Joon: Watercolor and ink is my primary medium, but I would say I have two distinct styles – the loose, whimsical and the more controlled, conceptual style. The first is a testament to my fine art background, and the second incorporates my graphic design experience. Recently I have been blending these two techniques and am really excited with this new direction. It creates layers of discovery and thought, but with an underlying playfulness.
SO: Who are some artists that have had the biggest influence on your work? What artists are you big fans of?
Soosan Joon: When I was young, I was obsessed with the film Pink Floyd: The Wall, specifically the animation by Gerald Scarfe. The books of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein also influenced me. In my college studies, I was most inspired by Post-Impressionism and Expressionism. To name a few: Matisse, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Kirchner, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele. All of which are rich in color and unbelievably expressive.
I have always been attracted to work that stimulates my senses; moody paintings that I can see, feel, smell, taste, and hear the work dance off the canvas. Even though I respect the craft of technical and realistic art, I prefer the artist’s personal interpretation of their subjects. The finished work is cleverly created through the imagination of the artist – that’s my favorite!
SO: Explain the influence and all around inspiration that your mother has been to you in life and work.
Soosan Joon: This could take hours, but I’ll try to keep it short. My mother, although not an artist by definition, is exactly that – a filmmaker, photographer, interior designer, and fashion designer. Growing up we were blessed to be surrounded by the classic Persian passions of music, dance, poetry, food, and films. As for the biggest influences, specifically, it would be my mother’s relentless documentation of our lives and her extravagant, authentic Persian parties.
At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), my graduate thesis was based on my mother’s 500+ hours of home videos. I know this seems like an ancient concept today with social media and cell phones, but for the Beta years this was groundbreaking art! My mom’s videos were primarily based off the daily routines and awkward moments of our family. Thanks to my mom, I have numerous shots of waking up to a camera in my face, scenes of my brother lecturing us, my sister having numerous temper tantrums, us talking on the phone with our first significant others… she was ruthless! She even took photos of me the first time I came home drunk and got sick when I was in high school. No joke, I have photos straddling a trashcan on the kitchen floor with my head completely immersed in the can. Her fearlessness and voyeuristic nature influenced my painting technique and the candid documentarian style of my work.
Speaking of partying I still believe, to this day, the best party I ever went to was when I was 10 years old. My mom would host these massive house parties filled with elaborate food and drinks, live music and singing, dancing, poetry readings, and on the especially wild nights, breakfast would be served and the remaining guests would watch the sunrise together. Now in my adult life I strive to recreate these memories and celebrate all these rich visuals I experienced through fashion, jewelry, accessories, rugs, china, homes and travel.
SO: The colors in your work are exceptional, and each painting has almost an inviting feeling to it, like it makes me feel happy. Is that something you intentionally go for, creating art that makes people happy?
Soosan Joon: Wow, what a compliment! I love to make people happy, thank you!
My color choices are purely innate, I don’t think about it. I remember my college professor and amazing artist, David Christiana, would walk around the room and focus only on our working palettes. By looking at the colors, not the canvas, he could determine if a painting was any good. I know this may seem odd but to me, it made complete sense. I recall he once said to me, “I love your approach to a new painting, you just throw colors on a white canvas and don’t think, just do. You aren’t just a painter, Soosan, you’re a colorist.”
His words have stayed with me, and I still believe great things are created when you don’t over think it. To this day, my paintings that are most authentic are on-site travel drawings. They allow me to paint freely and provide me the confidence that there is no such thing as making a mistake. Magic happens within that moment of raw, pure and honest artistry.
SO: How do you choose the subjects and things you decide to paint? What objects are you drawn to?
Soosan Joon: I like unusual and colorful subjects best. Generic and commercial beauty does not really excite me. As for objects, I prefer the timeless ones with a story and heritage.
SO: Fashion plays a prominent role in your work, and you personally have style for miles. Has fashion influence your art more, or art influenced your fashion more?
Soosan Joon: Since I was a child my mom dressed my sister and I in complementing outfits that were either handmade by her or created by some kid couture line. I remember long afternoons where my sister and I would sit in Saks Fifth Avenue and Mondi, while my mom would try on and buy these beautiful gowns and tailored suits. I didn’t realize this exposure to fashion brands at such a young age would impact my work and personal style as much as it has.
For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with pop culture. In high school MTV, Rolling Stone Magazine and the supermodels of the early 90s were everything to me. Every inch of my bedroom walls were covered from top to bottom with musicians and fashion ads… so yeah, I would have to say fashion first!
SO: What inspired you to created the Ben and Jerry piece? It’s brilliant. You wrapped a cone of Americone Dreams ice cream in a Burberry scarf under a Ben & Jerry’s infused Burberry logo. What!? SO good. Explain that thought process!
Soosan Joon: This particular piece was made for a series I did for American Dreams: A New York City Art Pop Up in London. Once speaking with the curator, Greg T. Spielberg, we thought it would be cool to have a play on American and British cultures. After weeks of brainstorming, my husband comes home one day and says, “Roy Rogers for Rolls Royce!” and right then and there I was inspired to research hundreds of brands, both American and British. The titles and concepts that made the final cut are Jackpot (Harrah’s for Harrods), Graceland (Paul Simon for Paul Smith), and, of course, AmeriCone Dream (Ben & Jerry’s for Burberry).
One of my favorites in this series is the AmeriCone Dream piece because it celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of many Americans and their dreams. As for the luxury brand twist with the iconic Burberry pattern, I love the challenge of mixing luxury with an everyday commodity – making luxury accessible. This type of work encourages dialogue among people of different socioeconomic status that initially thought they had little in common. I witness this first-hand at my recent group show in London.
SO: Is Americone Dream your favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor, or are you just a big fan of Stephen Colbert?
Soosan Joon: Although I love ice cream, I would say I’m more of a fan of Stephen Colbert himself. I prefer getting current news with humor, not the dramatic delivery of the horrid 6 o’clock news. The show is a perfect blend of sarcasm, comedy sketch and intelligence.
SO: Describe your perfect NYC day.
Soosan Joon: My perfect NYC day would be to wake up early with my husband and walk to this cozy little Norwegian owned café, Bakeri. On our caffeine highs, we would ride our bikes to Prospect Park dropping into boutiques and exploring neighborhoods along the way. After we had just about exhausted ourselves physically, we would catch the sunset on the ride home.
Once we cleaned up, we would head to the city for a kick ass art opening with fresh music. Then we would meet good friends at a low-key sushi spot for sake, oysters and spicy scallop hand rolls. Ahhhh yes… that would be my perfect NYC day.
SO Note: Check out more of Soosan’s work at @miss_soosan!and follow her