Summer Wheat is a painter. She studied at the University of Central Oklahoma (BA) and the Savannah College of Art and Design (MFA). After working in seclusion for five years, Summer moved to NYC. She’s exhibited in France and all over the USA, including Atlanta, Savannah, Boston and Brooklyn.
When I was in graduate school, at the Savannah College of Art and Design, I made these cash register tape drawings. They were 387 feet long. They were hanging in the gallery for my thesis project and somebody didn’t understand what they were and threw them in the trash during the exhibition. It was two years of my work. I was really traumatized by the whole event, obviously. I went into a reclusive mode, in Georgia, for five years after that happened. I just worked in my studio by myself and didn’t have any studio visits and hid away and reinvestigated my entire painting process.
My studio in Georgia used to be a daycare centre so I thought of it like my playpen. No one was allowed in there and and it was just my little world that I claimed for that five year period. It was a very grounding experience that’s helped me get through the bumps of being in New York.
It’s easier to deal with typical things like somebody coming in for a studio visit and being like, ‘This is terrible. I’m not into this at all,’ and then they show it a month later and they’re in love with it. The art world is really tepid. I can’t count on their view of me. I really can’t, because it changes every day. Those five years gave me a sense of security that helps me move through those waves of approval and disapproval.
Moving to New York was total intuition. It was 2009 and the economy had just crashed and everyone was leaving but I was like, ‘I’m going! It’s my time!’ I couldn’t sleep. I knew it was my time. I told my husband and he was like, ‘Are you crazy? This is not happening right now,’ and I was like, ‘I have to go right now.’ I went, and it was my time. So many things lined up for me the minute I got here.
My studio has a full view of Manhattan. You can see all the bridges from here. At night, it’s gorgeous. This space is 1100 square feet and I really like how high the ceilings are. I’ve been able to build organizational systems–like my little paint table. I used to have paint everywhere and I couldn’t see what was what.
My paintings are total surprises. Often, I’ll have something totally atrocious that ends up making sense to me in the last moment. It’s always fun. Like this painting–total nightmare, total mess. I seriously doubt it will come together, but it could. I have to challenge myself to find solutions to things that are impossible. The more I do that, if I commit to saying ‘this has an answer,’ this other world opens up to me and I’m able to figure it out. It’s surprising how simple solutions are–but I don’t get there until I get over the anxiety of realizing that it’s possible.
My husband has always been very supportive of my career and work. We have a lot of flexibility in our relationship that allows me to have a great deal of my own time, so that when I am working on a show he understands that I need a lot of space to myself.
I am really working on becoming more efficient in the studio, so I am developing a lot of systems to help me get organized–so I can be more productive. I want to do large scale stuff. I want to do full spaces that cover the walls and create different realities with them. I want to do litho prints and do a series of books. I’m writing a book. I have different facets to my tree, you know? I have to be efficient. I didn’t realize that until recently.
-Summer Wheat, as told to Studio Beat.
Photos by Courtney Vokey