Chicago artist Susan Cua integrates Asian heritage into her art

Paintings hung on walls of a studio.

Photo courtesy of Susan Cua

Susan Cua displays her artwork on the walls of her studio. The Chicago artist rents a space at Greenleaf Art Center in Rogers Park.

Charlotte Ehrlich, Reporter

In Manila, 11-year-old Susan Cua crafted a “The Merchant of Venice” drawing for her elementary school art exhibit.

After years of art shows and open houses, Cua said she’d never thought she’d make it this far. Art has always resonated with the Chicago artist. Originally from the Philippines, she moved thousands of miles away to her aunt’s home in Illinois when she was 18.

“I’ve always wanted to come to America — it’s one of those dreams for people back home,” Cua said. “Being here is a way of being myself.”

Based out of Greenleaf Art Center in Rogers Park, Cua rents an art space with Evanston artist Maureen Crowley. With paintings covering the walls from top to bottom, the space showcases a diversity of artistic styles.

Cua’s side of the studio is characterized by idyllic scenery, like her series of watercolors on Monet’s garden, according to her website.

“Over the years, Cua’s painting style has changed,” her website reads. “Now more bold, expressionistic and dramatic, as she experiments mixing media combined with delicate strokes from her Asian heritage.”

Although she finds open houses beneficial in building her client list — like her first at Evanston’s Unicorn Cafe — Cua said she prefers one-on-one commissions.

Artists can best market their products on social media platforms such as Facebook or through word of mouth, Cua said. Making her work available digitally made it more accessible to family members abroad, like her 21-year-old nephew, she said.

“He told his mom, ‘I want these three paintings online. You’ve got to help me buy them,’” Cua said.

Crowley, who works in the same art space as Cua, said she has enjoyed getting to know the artist and hearing her stories about her large family.

She also added that she appreciates how well their styles go together due to the noticeable technique difference between the two.

“She’s much more impressionistic than I am,” Crowley said. “I think her artwork has a dreamy kind of quality to it, while mine is more bright and clear.”

Inspired by impressionist painters, Cua has traveled to several European countries to paint landscapes.

Cua also expanded her artistic talents through studying piano performance in music at the American Conservatory of Music and music therapy at DePaul University. She said she still plays and teaches piano in her free time.

It was during this time, while she was studying piano performance, when she also developed her artistic portfolio at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and through courses at the Evanston Art Center.

After an intercontinental move, prolonged physical distance from family and an adjustment to life in a new world, Cua said art has gotten her through it all.

Though she has worked several side jobs over the years to make ends meet, Cua said art remains her favorite pastime.

“Art, to me, means life. You have to have the passion for it,” Cua said. “I’m happiest when I’m painting.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @charlottehrlich

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