Susan “The Art Lady” O’Connor, B.A. – Art Therapist
Susan O’Conner, aka The Art Lady, has been with Visions since the very beginning. She is literally part of the foundational framework of our residential and outpatient facilities. Susan is also the creator of Art as a Language—a means of using art to “tap the unconscious, release blocked emotions, face vulnerabilities, and acknowledge addictions.” Using art in this way allows our teens to viscerally and tangibly access the underbelly of their emotions in a way that is healing and liberating. Susan is all heart: she is creative and kind, of service, and full of healing energy. Susan is lovingly known as the Art Lady in many recovery environments, having worked in recovery for a decade. Her signature paint-splattered overalls are an indelible symbol of love and heart. We are beyond blessed to have Susan in our midst.The staff completely agrees:
“What an original and special gift Susan brings to Visions. You can see this whenever she arrives at our facilities, as the kids all yell out excitedly, “ART LADY!” She has such an amazing ability to bring out the unconscious creative faculties of the clients, allowing them expression of difficult and otherwise unreachable emotions. She clearly cares about our clients and helping them on their journey of healing. To see Susan in action is to see love itself at work. We are lucky to have her in our Visions family.” – Joseph Rogers
“Art lady: Charisma, charm and creativity sum her up!” – Heather Colligan
“You could never run out of things to say about Susan the “Art Lady.” Susan brings creativity to Wednesday nights and truly adds so much to our program. The clients love working with her and she spreads positivity whenever she is here. In addition to taking care of the kids’ creative voices, she is in tune with the staff’s need to also express ourselves; she often hosts workshops just for us! These past 10 years working with Susan have truly been a gift. Thanks, Susan!” – Chris and Amanda Shumow
There’s more! Read on for Susan’s answers to our questions. She never ceases to amaze, really:
1: What is your favorite artistic medium?
It changes quite regularly. Some favorites are collage – paper and
fabric, painting with acrylics, painting with gouache, clay people,
and printmaking, to name a few. Right now it is small clay people in
all sorts of different positions (mostly making social or political
statements) that I quietly put out on the streets, wall, stop signs…
2: Were you always encouraged to follow your artistic path?
Some, but it never mattered. Even as a small child, I drew all my
feelings. I am good at science too – and I like it, so those that
wanted me to get a “real job” thought I should go in that direction.
Needless to say…
3: Where do you go for peace and quiet?
My garden… I sit by my herbs in my garden with any kind of art supply.
So easy to be calm and creative with lavender, rosemary, lemon balm
and basil filling the air. The birds like it when I am out there too.
4: You work with adolescents as well as adults, how are they different in terms of their application of artistic expression?
Adolescents are much more available and still have a bit of hope. My goal is to let them experience the language of color and shape and possibility. Besides, I really like teens. They may be angry but have not yet turned to adult bitterness. Adults require more sensitivity in getting out of their perceived safe heads that are cemented in denial. Most have been addicts for a long time.
They are both fragile groups of people and require a tender solution-oriented touch. Art never lies, so it cracks open even the toughest egg and that can be frightening. My hope is that this new way of expression will help them access the deep profound words that have eluded them for so long.
5: If you were stranded on an island, who or what would you want as company?
My stone-carver husband, our children and grandchildren, lots of art
supplies, a few musical instruments oh, and I guess a way to grow
6: What would you do if you ever stopped painting and drawing?
I would die.
7: Where do you feel most at home?
My studio in the little retro trailer we call home – and always with
8: What makes you laugh out loud?
My funny husband and very funny grandkids… they are my life’s blood.
9: Spring, Summer, Autumn, or Winter?
I actually love all the colors, smells and feelings of all the different seasons. If I have to pick one, it is Fall. My babies were born in October and I travel back to those times every year. I also got clean and sober in October. A very special month.
10: Why do you choose to work for Visions?
I remain honored to have worked for Visions since the beginning. Their philosophy of treating the adolescents with dignity, in turn teaches the kids self respect and respect for others. They are Twelve Step Program oriented. I truly enjoy all these young people, and
their funny humor and crazy music. I am amazed at the openness and willingness they have to understand that Art is truly a Language. Additionally, I think the staff is a committed, supportive, kind group of people that work very hard at understanding the teen mind.