Out of the Box

Sue Chenoweth, 52, starts at one small place, and ends up with painfully intricate paintings that chase through the psyche and surprise even her. The lifelong Phoenician paints in a big, bright studio at Metropolitan Arts Institute (a.k.a. Metro Arts), a charter high school downtown, where she teaches art. Earlier this year, she had a show in New York at the CUE Art Foundation, curated by Susan Krane, director of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. While Chenoweth plots her next show, she’s dabbling in craft – the box she created for a show at MADE art boutique on Roosevelt Row was snatched up the first night by none other than architect Will Bruder. But you can still buy one of the Shrinky Dink necklaces she doesn’t really want you to know are hers. She does, however, want you to know that she thinks Jack Black is the hottest man alive.

The inspiration behind the self-portrait in "The Plant People," a series in progress: This is me teaching -- this is the girls with all the black makeup on -- this is me trying to reach these kids. These are all the kids' cigarettes because they like cigarettes . . . and it's me who's the recovering addict, you know, who can talk with them honestly.

(Note: We can't show you this one because Chenoweth painted over it. It's now The World We Live, The World We Know.)

Creating art of biblical proportions for "The Rich Man," her show in New York: It started out, I took the New Testament and went to every single reference to the Rich Man. So I decided I would do a painting of everything I could find. And then I went into the Old Testament, but it was mostly the New Testament. And this is the first one I did, and it's called The Rich Man Counts His Money, The Rich Man Dies.

And then it got really, really literal, in "Embarrassed to Want Rich Women's Clothes" (a series of three): I go to SoHo and I go to these shops and I just think "Oh, my god, look at that outfit. It looks like it could dissolve right in your hands." They're so beautiful and they're thousands of dollars and there are four of them. So I got this sick feeling, kind of like, "I'll never have that." But I wondered if I even wanted it. It was like art. I'd go and look at it like it was a gallery. So I went from the Bible to fashion.

My name is Sue, and I'm religious: Believe it or not, I'm very religious. Not religious, but recovering religious. And I believe in magic almost, like I believe that I couldn't live without the feeling that everything's a grand tale and everything's magic and you do this, and you get a message. And I really believe in all that, and it makes my life really fun.

Why there are no paintings made with real blood in her studio anymore: I went through this cathartic thing where I had to make more room. I threw away I don't know how many huge garbage cans. Anything with real blood or mutilation or I'd prick my finger and draw with the blood -- I don't know why and I don't care. Anything that reeked of Camelback Hospital.

It runs in the family: My grandmother was a painter. My other grandmother was a weaver . . . I drew compulsively as a child. I drew to stay alive. I drew to keep myself from completely breaking into pieces, because I was so uncomfortable.

What's up with the Shrinky Dinks: My dear friend Mary McClaren is a jeweler and I watch her all the time design and plan jewelry. I love the way Shrinky Dinks shrink stuff almost like a balloon . . . I used to do that as a kid, draw all over balloons and then let the air out and see how much finer my drawings looked all squashed . . . Mary bought me some. I really didn't want people to know I was making jewelry because it was just a whim thing, a fun thing, not serious . . . Many of my paintings have starting places. I might look at an old print and draw from that. Well, the Shrinky Dink stuff is just that. Starting places. Nothing more. It is like taking a nanosecond out of my painting process and putting it down. Doodles and tidbits.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at