After you fell in love with the town of Panajachel, Guatemala, you bought a former coffee farm where you built a house and studio from which you work.
Karma International: You often paint in the wild outdoor garden of lush greenery that you yourself planted and continue to add to with plants. After thirty years, those same plants and trees now stretch towards the sky, their density enveloping like a rainforest. Even still, each time you travel to Guatemala City you buy another plant for your garden. Where does this urge come from to create and cultivate your garden? How is it connected to your art?
Vivian Suter: When I moved to the property it already had a wonderful, huge tree, a so-called Ficus Matapalo. I simply fell in love with the tree and it inspired me to plant more so that I could watch it all unfold and grow. Every single plant makes me happy. There aren’t many coffee plants left from the original farm but just enough for us to drink!
When I first started growing my garden,
I didn’t think of it as art. I wanted to create something that expands over time and is here to stay. But now I see it differently, more as a part of my work. Because of that, I want to preserve land as a nature reserve to make sure that all of these birds, bugs, and squirrels that live here will have a safe place forever.
You often paint en plein air and incorporate the natural elements into your pieces.
KI: After you’ve worked the manta canvas with fish glue and pigments, you leave it outside so that the sun, rain, mud, leaves, and various animals can make their marks on the paintings. How do you then decide when a painting is finished?
VS: A work is finished whenever I feel like it. It can be a bird’s song that tells me to put down my brush. Sometimes it’s easy and other times it is incredibly hard to resist the urge to paint more – because I love to paint! But it’s great luck to find the exact right moment and understand a work is done.
KI: What has been the most inspiring event in your life?
VS: I will never forget the time we worked on documenta 14 with Adam Szymczyk. While I was preparing my work for Kassel and Nisyros, my mother was doing the same. In the meantime, Rosalind Nashashbi came to Panajachel multiple times to film us with her crew. Working with everyone during the exhibition was an enormous joy and it changed my life. When I think back, documenta was a huge challenge full of excitement.
For those who can’t walk by the gallery, check out a video of Vivian’s Storefront Show here!