Suzanne Gardner's story inspires me for its the story of an artist overcoming seemingly impossible odds.
Suzanne was born in Montreal. Her mother loved art, and Suzanne has warm memories of her mother taking her to galleries and shows. Suzanne says; " I have always gravitated to anything artistic or creative. As a child I took every opportunity to take an art or crafts class." Suzanne's mother must have recognized this in her daughter, for she gave her opportunities to take arts and crafts classes, as well as taking her to galleries to look at beautiful paintings.
Suzanne knew that her love of art was something special within her, and that she felt the always felt the need to "create something beautiful." And, her life was a natural journey through such media as pottery, ceramics, mosaics,and charcoal to acrylics - the media which "felt right".
It would would have been such a natural unfolding of events for Suzanne to have been able to have slid comfortably into an art school, and then to have caught the attention of gallery owners who escalated her into the public eye. But life doesn't always work out like dreams - and Suzanne's life took its own hard route which led her to become the person she is today.
Suzanne was diagnosed with childhood diabetes at the age of seven and it became a malevolent presence that walked beside her from that day on. Although, there were many years when Suzanne outmaneuvered her illness and led a successful life. In 1983 she moved to Toronto where she entered the U of T. Suzanne went from there to Ryerson where she studied gerontology and this took her into working as a nursing director in a senior's facility and from there to office management.
But, alas, diabetes had other plans for Suzanne and her life began to collapse like a house of cards.
While Suzanne dabbled with painting, she began to visual problems with details and colours became blurred. She was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy and within 2 years, Suzanne was declared legally blind.
While most artists would have been shattered by such news - Suzanne had other plans. “When I started to lose my vision I was a little scared about what I would do with my life but I also saw it as an opportunity to re-invent myself, to try something new,"
The crisp, clean lines and the fast drying qualities of acrylics led it to become her media of choice.
She also learned how to rely on her memory and she began using strong magnifying glasses to complete her paintings. And in the end, Suzanne harnessed her handicapped and turned it into an advantage.
She exploited the power of contrast and colour to its fullest and she used her paint to evoke emotion and movement. She says that she relies a lot on her memory and strong magnifying glasses to complete her paintings. She also adds that her loss of vision has contributed to her use of bright contrasting colours. "When the colours are vibrant I have an easier time distinguishing between them.". She says that she no longer bothers to create a duplicate of the flower but uses the paint to evoke emotion and movement. "I want the viewers to feel as though the bouquet is dancing".
A visit to Suzanne's website and blog is sure to impress any follower of the visual arts. Her personal cv records her many gallery showings and public presentations. And not just that, but she has made some pretty formidable sales with her paintings making their way into private collections in several countries. Her most notable sale was to 3 times world cup cycling winner Greg LaMonde who has one of her largest works hanging in his home.
While many artists have a debilitating health issue that would take them out of art, Suzanne has exploited her weakness to become a stronger person. Its appropriate that she should be our profiled artist, on this, World Diabetes Day 'Portrait' entry.
Please click here to visit Suzanne's website
Special thanks to the University Health Network, Community News, writer Kim Garwood here
and to Ellen Lechter Green, of the Canadian Jewish News, and to Suzanne for background information for this article.