In many instances, as people age, some lose the desire to try new things. Others may simply feel that it’s too late for them to discover any hidden talents or to try something new. This is not the case for Susan Burke, however, who discovered she has the talent and passion for oil painting, only about four or five years ago.
Mrs. Burke has experienced a great deal in her lifetime, and has a long and detailed history in the world of art. She is a Holocaust survivor, who, according to her husband, Bruce Burke, “lost her father at the age of three to German sympathizers in Hungary.”
Although she has no formal training in painting, she’s earned two master’s degrees and has completed classes as well. One master’s degree is for economics from a university in Hungary, while one class/course she later completed, was an online course for interior decorating, where she received a certification from the Sheffield School of Interior Design.
After attaining her economics degree, she went to Moscow when she was thirty years old, no longer having an interest in economics. Instead, she decided to study ceramic art, earning her second master’s degree from the School for Ceramic Arts in Moscow, Russia.
“I wanted to do something and I went to the ceramic art. I loved it,” she said emphatically. “It’s a tough job. It’s not easy to do ceramics, but it’s fantastic.”
European born and educated, Susan Burke came to America thirty-three years ago, speaking no English. Working with clothes and patterns is one of her skills, and although it didn’t require a great deal of communication, she still needed to learn some of the language. After coming here, she worked for a business in clothing and went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
“She was what they call a, ‘production pattern maker,’” Mr. Burke explained.
Mrs. Burke later went on to tell me that she’s always had an interest for art.
“When I was a kid, I was drawing constantly, and I wanted to be a clothing designer.”
Mr. and Mrs. Burke were both single for around fifteen to twenty years, and met on Match.com in 2002, getting married a year later.
She worked in the pattern making and garment industry until she lost her job in 2009, with the company she worked for going bankrupt shortly thereafter. Living in New Jersey at the time, she moved to Florida after losing her job, and she and her husband have lived here for almost eight years, moving to Hernando County around October of 2009. She still makes clothing, for her herself at least, but her focus has shifted to learning a new artform: painting.
Since she picked up a paintbrush a few short years ago, she hasn’t been able to put it down and has experimented in a number of different genres, trying a little bit of everything.
“About four years ago, I tried to pick up a brush and started to paint. I don’t have any formal education in painting, but I am self taught. It’s my passion,” Susan Burke said. She later added, “I educate myself every day. I go to the Internet, I find things. Actually, I took a course, which was very good, but I have a feeling that if you have formal education, you lose your individuality. If you are trained to do in a certain way, it’s not definitely your way. So I really try on my own.”
She explained to me that it takes about a month, minimum for her to paint a portrait, and one of her very first portraits was a painting of her husband.
“I try everything and I make a lot of portraits, which is the hardest one of all,” she said.
Mrs. Burke showed me a great deal of her completed works, as well as her workshop/art studio where she works on both her paintings and pattern making. She also demonstrated side by side, the works that are completed and the photographs they are based upon, and showed me some of the ceramics she’s made.
“I like to [paint] portraits, but I like to do other things also. And sometimes I just go crazy and I make whimsical flowers.”
She proceeded to illustrate what she meant by showing me photographs of creative flowers and centerpieces, made from a wide variety of materials, like toilet paper rolls, beads, paper, cupcake tins, carpenter nails, and different pieces of plastics.
Mrs. Burke has had quite a bit of experience in showing her work, as she previously had yearly group exhibitions for her ceramic art in Budapest, Hungary. In addition to this, she also had a painting that was a finalist for a competition in Ft. Lauderdale, has entered in several contests, and has been in galleries, including one in West Palm Beach.
One competition she entered was after she had been painting for about a year and a half. She saw a magazine when she was in South Carolina about a competition.
“I entered to the competition. They were very strict. They wanted to depict something from the Magnolia Garden in Charleston. We went there and we photographed a lot of things and then we chose what I like. And I entered with two paintings. And my biggest surprise, both of them were chosen as a finalist,” Mrs. Burke explained. “I was thrilled. Totally thrilled.”
Although she didn’t win the competition, she was very happy to be a finalist, especially since she had only recently started painting. Over time, she’s decreased the number of competitions she does, due to the cost and time involved. However, she is still incredibly active with her artistic projects.
She is currently working on a project for her husband’s son’s wedding, and is working to teach her granddaughter, who is ten years old, how to paint, by communicating to her step by step what she does in her work.
Photos of many of her paintings can be found on her website, many of which have captions that provide viewers a bit of information about the history of or the story behind the piece.
Susan Burke completes commissioned work by request. To contact her, find out more about her work, and view more examples of her paintings, you can call her at 917-476-3590, and visit her website at https://artbyzsuzsa.com/.