Artist Sue Chenoweth Remembers Oleanders from Her Childhood in Phoenix

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Best of Phoenix hits newsstands Sept. 26. In conjunction with this year's Vintage Phoenix theme, New Times is collaborating with R. Pela Contemporary Art to present "Hot Plate!" It's an exhibition of one-of-a-kind, Phoenix-inspired commemorative plates made by local artists. Leading up to the show's Oct. 4 opening, we're profiling each of the contributing artists and visiting their studios. Today: Sue Chenoweth.

Known for her complex, enigmatic paintings and drawings, multi-media artist Sue Chenoweth embraced art as a professional career later than most artists, attending and graduating from ASU at an age when most people would find it daunting, if not impossible. Her late start notwithstanding, Chenoweth has managed to gain national and international recognition for her work and in recent years has been honored with solo exhibitions at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Largo das Artes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as well as inclusion in nationally curated group shows.

See also: Hot Plate! Best of Phoenix Commemorative Collaboration Opens Oct. 4 at R. Pela Gallery

The artist can usually be found working in her home studio -- a blend of mid-century modern and artistic chaos -- on any number of projects, with her Shepard/chow mix dog, Darla, usually curled up on the studio floor beside her. When not slathered in paint or swimming with sharks (literally), Sue Chenoweth teaches advanced visual arts classes at Metropolitan Arts Institute in downtown Phoenix.

What's your earliest memory of Phoenix? My family moved here when I was four. We moved into an apartment for just a few months; nearby, there was this whole compound surrounded by huge oleanders, white and pink. We would stand there and my mother would take pictures of it. We were from Plainview, Texas, and we didn't have oleanders there. Only tornadoes.

What inspired your plate for this show? I usually don't go with prompts very well, so I decided I'd just paint this winter scene, until I realized, what am I doing? I'm painting a classic winter scene. But that somehow fits because people here in town want to be cold when it's really hot. It's a fantasy winter scene for Phoenicians. Underneath that, I painted these green prickly pear cacti, which remind me of those old nostalgic plates. If you look at the foliage quickly, it looks like holly; when you look closer, you discover it's cacti.

Phoenix needs more... Art collectors.

Phoenix needs less... Strip malls.

What's on your plate this fall? I'm designing the stage set for The Tempest, the Shakespearean play that Metropolitan Arts Institute, is putting on in early December. It's going to be phenomenal - the set is on three levels, 24 to 30 feet tall, with ramps. We have a set builder from Corona del Sol High School, with Corona students working on the project. We have coaches, professional makeup people, professional costumers -- everything.

It's going to be Metro's tour de force.

And I just may paint an entire series of seasonal plates to complete the collection.

See Chenoweth's work when "Hot Plate!" opens October 4 at R. Pela Contemporary Art.

Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version to reflect that the set builder is from Corona del Sol High School, not Coronado.

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