Suzanne M. Packer showed her first artwork at the San Francisco Museum of Art when she was five years old. Some of her earliest memories are of spending her Saturdays sitting at the dining table painting watercolors and drawing with her dad, A.S. Packer, noted illustrator for Parade magazine, as her mother, teacher and school principal, encouraged her. She grew up in a suburb near Manhattan and was taken to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MOMA and the Frick Collection.
She says art runs in the family. One grandchild is a working artist. Her “very supportive” husband, Dick McGarr, is a painter. They live in a uniquely artistic house designed by Nina Wolff, with wide pine panel floors, stressed-wood doors and exposed beams.
Married with children and freelancing as a graphics designer — for which she had trained at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in the 1960s — she opened Bare Cove Gallery in Hingham, Massachusetts, with three other women (still friends) and she “hasn’t stopped painting since.”
She had a chance to move to Mexico City, where, she said, “I had a whole top floor studio. I could see the mountains. The light, the colors, the weather influenced me; I had the freedom to use those brighter colors.” Running out of acrylics there was fortuitous; she changed to oils and never looked back (leaving watercolors and pastels behind for the most part, too). She also developed a love for white-line block printing when she wanted to return to printmaking but had no press and didn’t want to use toxins.
Living in England after Mexico, “it was so dark and cold that even though I had a good studio, I didn’t like painting there,” Packer said. Instead, she prowled galleries and museums, attended lectures and studied the local architecture; an exhibit of modernist Milanese industrial graphic designs reignited her interest in painting with clean light lines.
Relocating to Cape Cod in the 1980s, by 1992, she began to paint full time. Her style has matured there.
Though flowers and fruits of her own garden have often urged her to paint, now more often, water is the trigger. She’ll create a fairly literal small oil of landscape. Rather than face the pond or the ocean head on, she turns to the side, to include the trees, rocks and dunes.
Returning to her studio, she extracts pieces from her prompt to abstract them, asking herself, “how does a small part of the painting now relate to the larger canvas, and what will the composition be?” The vivid, unexpected shapes and colors, which essentialize the energy, essence and spirit of place, create an almost telepathic response: without seeing a realistic rendering, viewers seem to know exactly where her subject is, for there is a universality not dependent on knowing the specific places she explores in paint. Her paintings stay in your mind after viewing, changing their perception.