By Annie Rhoades
While painting is a hobby for many, few are able to parlay their passion into a successful career as an artist. But for alumna Susan Carter Hall (BA 00), artist and oil painter, that’s how it all panned out.
“I come from a father who is an attorney that encourages art but also encouraged us to go to law school if we wanted to,” Hall said. “I didn’t know how it would be possible to make a career out of art.”
A native of Jackson, Hall grew up with a paintbrush in her hand from the time she was a small child.
“My grandmother was a painter, and she always encouraged us to be doing things with art,” Hall said. “I was always drawn to painting, and it’s just very exciting to me. I started taking painting more seriously around my junior year in high school. I had a great teacher named Sunnye McGraw at Jackson Prep. I remember I was in AP Art class working with oils for the first time, and she gave me a photograph. I got really involved in that painting working with light and color, and the painting just came alive. It really drew me in, and I was hooked.”
Hall graduated from Jackson Preparatory School in 1994 with an interest in Ole Miss’ art program.
“I always knew I wanted to go to Ole Miss,” Hall said. “A lot of people from my graduating class went there, and Oxford seemed really exciting to me. I remember my senior year in high school I just wanted to get up there as often as I could.”
An art scholarship recipient, Hall enrolled at the university in the fall of 1994. After taking basic courses along with art electives during her freshman year, Hall took a break from art for a year only to be drawn back full force.
“I would travel away every summer to Nantucket, Italy, Hilton Head [South Carolina] and different places,” said Hall. “When I was in Nantucket I had this realization that I needed to be doing art, and that’s when I focused on obtaining an art history degree. I loved majoring in art history at Ole Miss. I didn’t care if it was an 8 a.m. class – I just loved going to those classes and looking at pictures of paintings all day.”
Hall found that the nurturing environment and pace of Oxford were crucial to her development as an artist.
“I was able to really sort of explore painting in a safe environment without the distractions of the big city. The South is a huge part of me, and it comes out in my work.”
A member of Chi Omega Fraternity, Hall received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2000 and quickly made the West Coast her home where her budding art career could thrive.
“The summer before I came out to L.A. I went to Italy to study art history and painting,” Hall said. “Some of the people that were on that trip were from California, and they invited me out. The plane landed in Santa Barbara, and I thought it looked like the Italian Coast. I was so inspired by the beautiful light and landscape that I decided I needed to move there.”
Hall had a string of different jobs including working in a photography gallery, fashion and even film before she opened her studio in 2008 and began pursuing painting full time.
“I love going to my studio every day,” Hall said. “I feel like a scientist trying to solve paintings, and I just love that I get to do what I love every day. To me going to the studio is more gratifying than a big show. It’s a process that I think is the greatest part. Some people dread Mondays but I’m like, ‘Oh good – I get to go back to the studio tomorrow!’ It’s fun for me, so I feel very grateful for that.”
Hall’s work, straddling abstract and narrative, is influenced by everything from nature, dreams, daily interactions, fashion, design, memory and other artists including David Hockney, L.A.-based artist Tom Wudl and French Impressionist Bonnard to name a few. But she says she wouldn’t be the artist she is today without the influence of her professors at Ole Miss.
“Jere Allen was an influential art instructor,” Hall said. “You delve a little bit more into oil painting when you take a class in college, and he was very influential. Our class was in [Brevard] Hall, and all I ever wanted to do was go to the room where we were working on still life painting. There was also Dr. Crouther (MFA 75), an art history teacher, whose class I always enjoyed. Robert Malone (MFA 94), a painting and drawing instructor, and my ceramics teacher Ron Dale were both great as well. They didn’t give you rules or anything. They gave you freedom to experiment and make mistakes and do your own thing. Ole Miss was very fortunate to have them.”
While Hall continues to paint commissions and is preparing for an upcoming group show in August, she’s looking forward to more collaborative and solo work.
“Hopefully I’ll have a solo show in the next year,” Hall said. “I’d like to collaborate with other artists, and maybe teach painting on a group trip. I have a sign in my studio that says, ‘Are you having fun?’ That’s what I love – to do work that people respond to that is also fun for me.”