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‘You Are the Sunshine’

By Diana Suttenfield - Guest Columnist | Apr 30, 2021

"You Are the Sunshine" was created by Shepherdstown artist Diana Suttenfield over the last year. Courtesy photo

This is the story of a how a painting evolved over several months in my efforts to deal with politics and the long lasting pandemic.

Sometime in early Aug. 2020, I wanted to paint a large painting, and a 48” x 60″ linen canvas was primed and ready.

After screwing eye hooks on and hanging the canvas by chains against my studio wall, (the chains make it possible to raise and lower the canvas), I studied the canvas, thinking about what I wanted to paint. I’d been painting almost non-stop since last spring, but this would be a different kind of painting — it would be a protest painting.

And, while working on it, I hoped to lose some of those frustrations and angers.

There were a lot of sketches of landscapes with hay bales, but at the moment I did not feel like making a bright sunny painting, because I felt gloomy after four years of the Trump administration, along with the devastating COVID-19 crisis.

Usually I want structure in my paintings, but this new painting was going to be chaotic, a reflection of the times.

It was going to be a very dark depressing looking landscape: heavy black clouds, a black mountain and downward streaks of grey and black color, representing a storm.

Painting doesn’t come easy to me, but I thrive on the challenges. And while working on it did not elevate my mood, I was glad to be attacking the canvas with large brushstrokes.

Listening to music while painting and jabbing the loaded brush onto the canvas, became an almost enjoyable venture. The painting grew very dark through September and October.

But, then, November happened. Mr. Biden won the presidential election, and the United States was going to have a woman vice president.

The winter storm lifted, both in my painting and in my heart.

I brought out jars of yellow ocher paint and started dashing off areas of golden ground, and painting out the storm clouds.

The heavy clouds lifted, shifted and became the lighter, airy morning fog that we see along the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

I did put in some hay bales, moved them about to find a good composition, finally placing two large bales in the foreground. The black mountains became green fields.

On the afternoon of Jan. 20, 2021 I finished the painting with bright sunlight hitting the ground, and highlighting the left side of the largest bale, and titled the painting “You Are the Sunshine.”

There have been so many downsides to the pandemic affecting so many people, that it is difficult to list a few. But, just on the artistic local level there have been negative effects.

Last September, the Jefferson Arts Council exhibited my paintings in their Charles Town gallery, but could not have an “opening,” although I don’t even know if anyone came to see the show.

The Gallery at 105, Princess Street closed and started an online exhibit of paintings and sculpture.

My paintings, shipped to galleries that have been closed to the public, are also able to be viewed online.

As a frequent museum goer, I have felt a huge loss, with museums and galleries closed in the Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York City, for so many months. While I have an art degree, my real art education has come from those institutions.

The good news is the Washington, D. C. museums are planning to re-open, on a limited schedule in May.

And the other good news is The Gallery at 105, Princess Street, will be exhibiting “You Are the Sunshine” in June. Their website is www.galleryat105.com.