Fine Art

As she fights cancer, Painter Susanne Forestieri shares intimate portraits of her friends

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Forestieri’s oil-painting portraits are on display at Nevada Humanities.
Photo: Wade Vandervort

Susanne Forestieri says that she is more outgoing than most artists, yet more introverted than people think. She likes to spend time alone doing her work, but it just so happens that a lot of that work involves portraits of friends and family.

“It’s a very, very intimate look at the people in my life,” Forestieri says of her show at Nevada Humanities, Reminiscences: Susanne Forestieri Friends, Family, Showgirls, and Color. “If you look closely, you can see the relationship I had with the person and how I chose to represent them.”

Forestieri originally dreamed of being a portrait painter. But she lost interest when she realized that paying customers wanted flattering portrayals. Instead, she’d dress up family and friends in costumes, bathing them in light and color. Reminiscences includes images of couples in love, friends seeking love and others dressed as showgirls.

Her favorite medium is oil paint, for its depth of color and because it dries slowly. “I like form and roundness and dimensionality,” Forestieri says. “Like somebody who edits their writing, I like moving paint around—some colors stay wet for weeks. I‘ll have a color in mind, and I will mix and mix and mix until I get that color.”

A little over a year ago, the prolific artist, now 72, was diagnosed with the rare peritoneal cancer. It has divided her life in half, with grueling chemo rounds and now heart disease. There’s no sugar-coating her suffering, and yet, she has found bright points in the darkness—specifically in painting: “It’s the only time I forget about the disease,” she says. “I feel happier and more optimistic when I’m doing that.” She also finds joy in teaching: “I feel I have a lot of wisdom about art to share with my students. I do my job somehow, amazingly, then I go home and collapse.”

Despite her illness, Forestieri is teaching Drawing II at UNLV this semester. The biggest positive for the portrait painter has been a strengthening of relationships with family and friends. “There are people I knew were friends, but I didn’t know they were such good friends,” says Forestieri, who moved to Las Vegas 30 years ago to help take care of her mom. Now, her mom is helping take care of her.

For all that is has taken away, cancer has forced a sort of clarity about an artist’s life. Forestieri wants to use her remaining strength to create work that’s honest and meaningful. “You can paint to be pretty or you can dig really, really deep,” Forestieri says. “It’s hard to reach down into the subconscious, into that place or mood that’s not so controllable. I want to try to get to that place.”

Reminiscences: Susanne Forestieri Friends, Family, Showgirls, and Color Through March 28, Monday-Thursday, 1-5 p.m, free. Artist reception March 1, 6 p.m, Nevada Humanities Program Gallery, 1017 S. 1st St. #190.

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