Thursday, September 09, 2004

Painting landscapes provides release for downtown Roanoke artist

Susan Egbert, one of Gallery 108's five partners, creates portraits in her studio space with acrylics and colored pencils.

lindsey.wray@roanoke.com 777-3521

Natural light from a large window illuminates artist Susan Egbert's small studio in Gallery 108 in downtown Roanoke. She often gazes out the window, watching cars go by on their way to and from the Roanoke City Market building or noticing the tops of people's heads as they walk past.

Sometimes, she said, people come in and stop by her desk to talk to her about the project she's working on. Others casually stroll around the studio, preferring not to disturb her.

Either way, Egbert, 49, loves what she does. She's one of Gallery 108's five partners, with whom she shares the business and operational responsibilities of the gallery.

"It's worked out well," she said of the gallery, an artist cooperative that opened in 2001.

Egbert is the only artist in the 20-member gallery who has a work area - equipped with a table and a box for supplies - at the gallery. There isn't enough room in her Mason Cove home to work, she said, so she's grateful for the space, even if it's small.

When she's not paying bills or keeping records for Gallery 108, Egbert works on portraits in her studio space. Using photos that people bring her, she creates portraits with acrylics and colored pencils. Sometimes, she said, she does montages to include several scenes from a person's life.

"That way you can capture the whole story," she said.

Egbert also frequently does monotypes, created by painting an image in reverse onto Plexiglas before pressing it onto a piece of paper. She often does monotypes for landscapes to create a more impressionist look, she said.

Every so often, Egbert does abstract artwork or experiments with an art form she hasn't worked with much. For instance, she designed and helped paint a rainforest mural at Mill Mountain Zoo in May.

"It's always fun to do something that takes you out of your normal routine," she said.

Egbert recently finished painting a scene in Craig County from a photograph she took of a bridge over a creek. The large painting was done for Anne Steele, who has a cabin in Craig County in which she plans to hang the painting.

"It's gorgeous," Steele said of the painting.

Steele described Egbert a "friendly and warm person" who is "immensely talented." Steele discovered the artist six years ago when she and her husband, Curt Steele, were looking for someone to paint a family portrait.

The portrait, which Egbert painted from a photo she took of the Steeles and their two sons, now hangs above the fireplace in the Steeles' family room. Anne Steele said that even though she often doesn't like photos of herself, she loves the portrait Egbert painted, especially the way Egbert captured the colors and the outdoor background.

"She is so attuned to the outside and to plants and the environment," Steele said of Egbert.

Egbert, who moved to the Roanoke Valley from New York 26 years ago, enjoys painting outdoor scenes and landscapes. Some of her ideas and inspiration come from her own walks and hikes at Dragon's Tooth and the Peaks of Otter.

Painting landscapes, Egbert said, provides a release, especially if she's been busy doing portraits and other work. Even when she's busy, Egbert said she tries to take some time to create art on her own, such as playing with colors and shapes in abstract paintings.

"It helps you feel kind of fresh," she said.

Balancing experimental art and art she does for work is sometimes difficult, Egbert said, but it usually turns out well.

"I rarely find that it's more work than pleasure," she said.

Being part of the art scene is nothing new for Egbert. Her father was a commercial artist, so he sometimes helped her exhibit some of her pen-and-ink drawings when she was growing up. Egbert majored in art at Oswego State University of New York and did some freelance artwork before moving to Virginia.

A board member of the League of Roanoke Artists, Egbert exhibits her work at several art shows each year, including the LRA's Art on the Barn, an outdoor art show held in April, and the annual Sidewalk Art Show. She's a member of the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge and also helps out at Gallery 108 during Art by Night, a monthly tour of art galleries in downtown Roanoke.

Egbert is usually at Gallery 108 five days a week. Aside from having a place to work on and display her art, she enjoys having the opportunity to collaborate with other artists.

"The more we can work together, the stronger the community is," she said.

Both of Egbert's daughters are also interested in art: Heather, a 2004 graduate of James Madison University, studied media art and design, and Lara, a sophomore at JMU, is studying graphic art.

Susan Egbert said she looks forward to seeing the new Art Museum of Western Virginia, which will be located behind Billy's Ritz. She enjoys the abundance of resources for artists in the area and hopes to continue discovering different ways to do art.

"There's something new all the time," she said.

Susan Egbert's work is on display at Gallery 108 on Market Street in downtown Roanoke. For more information, call 982-4278.

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