Suzy Hart sweeps her studio floor. She scrapes the glass on her palette, arranges her towels. “I have to create a sense of order to be ready to paint; too much chaos does not serve well,” she shares. This ritual—clearing the space, prepping paint, putting the music on—is Suzy’s way of centering. “Partly psychological prep,” she says. Out of this quiet, clean setting, Suzy is freed to engage in the task to which she has devoted her life—to make meaningful, humanistic work. 

“My task is to create a hook, whether aesthetic or emotional, to entice the viewer to spend more than a few seconds looking at art,” Suzy says. Once hooked, any viewer of Suzy Hart’s beguiling works of Imaginative Realism is compelled to look longer. What they’ll find is masterful realism with inspired messaging, each empowered with barefaced honesty.

Realism, especially portraiture, has long been Suzy’s wheelhouse. “I used to do imaginative work as a teenager, and, as I loved the human face, I did portraits for a living.” The portraits, though she considered them an “intuitive labor of love,” weren’t enough to sustain her motivations. She wanted to make people think, to create moments for viewers, which she herself experienced while spending a “full half-hour or more” in front of one great painting. “In my youth, it was Van Gogh and Rodin who called to me, but . . . it was Rembrandt who spoke to my soul,” Suzy says, citing Rembrandt’s “honest introspection” as a standout inspiration. 

Her own work is built of the same stuff—skillfully created works come alive with an almost mystic channelling of conceptual thought. “I have always framed my imagery around an idea, be it a revisit to allegorical themes that have cultural significance . . . or more original inventions of my own. As I paint, new ideas suggest themselves and merge into the finished work.”  

When asked to define the Imaginative Realism genre with which she identifies her work, Suzy offers both an academic and a personal response. “That question is being [discussed] in the realist art world,” she says. Suzy is a frequent presenter at TRAC (The Representational Art Conference), whose 2018 event addressed what the new realist movement ought to be called. 

“We did not want to use the term ‘fantasy’ art, which invariably takes internet searches in unfortunate directions,” she explains, adding that it is vision, not escape, that Imaginative Realists are after. “We are realists in that we use recognizable forms, but the concepts, now no longer relegated to an inscrutable world of academic art-speak, become accessible.” 

Indeed, Suzy’s paintings contain not only keen and lifelike forms and bodies, but they invite the everyman to imagine possibilities in the world of the painting and of themselves. “Returning to Imaginative Realism is really a coming-home. I have found old and new friends speaking their truth in magnificent and endlessly interesting ways.”

It’s the challenge of the realist to tell the truth of a moment—to accept what is and to respond accordingly. So when presented with a year like 2020, Suzy Hart responded like the realist that she is. “[It] has prepared me to finally be the artist I want to become. I feel the press of time. This last year, I nursed my mother, who died at home with us at age 97. Between that, COVID, and my urgent work in election integrity advocacy, I did not paint,” she admits. “Now I feel as though I know what to paint, and as Joseph Bravo says, ‘Why to paint.’” 

Currently, Suzy is at work on her interpretation of The Three Graces, which will center around youth, maturity, and age. “[It’s] women in conversation with each other, standing on shaky, dangerous ground.” The painting will contain all that honesty and clarity that her other works do, venturing into concepts of race, war, and dangers ahead. “Dark, I know,” Suzy says, “but that’s okay. That is realism, isn’t it?”

Portrait and photography by Will Crooks. For more on Suzy Hart’s work, visit suzyhart.com.