Chicago artist Susan Cua incorporates Asian heritage into her art


Photo courtesy Susan Cua

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

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

After years of art exhibitions and the open door, Cua said she never thought she would make it this far. Art has always resonated with the Chicago artist. Originally from the Philippines, she moved thousands of miles to her aunt’s home in Illinois at the age of 18.

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

Based in the 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 shows off a variety of artistic styles.

According to her website, Cua’s side of the studio is characterized by idyllic landscapes, like her series of watercolors about Monet’s garden.

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

Though she thinks open houses are beneficial for building her client list – like her first at Evanston’s Unicorn Cafe – Cua said she prefers single assignments.

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

“He said to his mother, ‘I want these three paintings to be online. You have to help me buy them, ”said Cua.

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

She added that she appreciates how well their styles match due to the noticeable technical difference between the two.

“She’s a lot more impressionistic than I am,” said Crowley. “I think her artwork has a dreamy quality, while mine is brighter and clearer.”

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

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

During this time while studying piano she also developed her artistic portfolio at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and through classes at the Evanston Art Center.

After an intercontinental move, extended physical distance from family, and an adjustment to living in a new world, Cua said that art got her through it all.

Though she has had several part-time jobs over the years to make ends meet, Cua said art remains her favorite pastime.

“For me, art means life. You have to be passionate about it, ”said Cua. “I am happiest when I paint.”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @charlottehrlich

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