“I’m constantly trying to experiment and explore—to develop my own style,” says painter Susan Overstreet. “Still, I take all of the past with me. I try to fit myself in the history of art.” With her vivid landscapes and figurative works, Overstreet honors artistic tradition, yet crafts her own distinct identity. Her paintings share the Impressionists’ devotion to capturing natural light and convey the Expressionists search for spiritual meaning beyond the physical realm—yet are boldly inspired by her own vision.
Overstreet grew up in a creative Rhode Island family. “My mother was an artist,” she says, “I can’t even remember a time when I wasn’t painting or drawing.” Although she studied art throughout high school and college, another passion influenced the trajectory of her life. “I also love politics,” she says.
After graduating from George Washington University, Overstreet worked in government relations. She continued to pursue art, but her day job pulled her in a different direction. In 2010, she was a teaching fellow at Brandeis University in the second year of a PhD program. That’s when it hit her. “I just kept thinking about my art,” she recalls. Overstreet decided to put politics behind her and move to Cape Cod to paint. “It was a complete leap of faith,” she admits.
While this was a big decision, it was not a difficult one for Overstreet, now a Brewster resident, who has fond memories of camping out in Truro as a young girl. “I was really inspired to paint in the tradition of the Cape’s en plein air painters,” she says. It was at an en plein air event that Cape Cod gallery owner Helen Addison noticed people reacting to Overstreet’s work, which led to representation at Addison Art in Orleans.
Like the Impressionists, Overstreet plants her easel outside and paints what she observes. “There’s a spontaneity involved,” she says of her technique. Similar to her hero, American icon John Singer Sargent, Overstreet uses broad brush strokes to capture patches of color. “Color is the dominant means of expression for me,” she says. “It defines the form.”
Acrylics are currently Overstreet’s medium of choice. She has become adept at manipulating a limited palette of primary colors to create a broad spectrum. The efficiency of acrylics, which dry quickly, also suits her style. “The light changes so continuously that you have to paint fast,” she says. “I love the immediacy of acrylics.”
Despite this comfort, Overstreet exhibits no signs of complacency and expresses a desire to change and develop artistically. “I think moving from one medium to another helps,” she says. The artist also paints in oils and watercolors, and experiments with sculpture because it helps her understand form and figure. Recently, she has challenged herself to paint different scenes. While she has an affinity for majestic Cape landscapes, she says she would like to focus more on people and capturing everyday life. “You have to be bold, to be willing to experiment, to have a lot of failures,” she says, “and then, maybe, you’ll have something new and brilliant.”