Art and Its Magical Therapy | EDGE Talks to Susan Tancer

Brain cancer survivor, Susan Tancer, creates one-of-a-kind functional art.

Painting became a therapeutic escape from cancer treatment.  After being diagnosed with brain cancer in 2004, this former marketing and public relations professional developed a passion for painting.  Suffering from the effects of chemotherapy, painting seemed the one thing to take her mind off of it.  This healing journey led to Tancer’s creation of original hand painted bags.  Each is hand-cut, hand-painted in colorful designs, meticulously sewn, sealed, and signed.  To complete her bags, Tancer embellishes with re-purposed and vintage objects that are tastefully collected from around the world. 

Susan Tancer Studios_Blue Stripe Graffiti Clutch with Bee
Susan Tancer Studios | Blue Stripe Graffiti Clutch with Bee

Inspired by her favorite painters, Picasso, Modigliani, and Van Gogh, Tancer’s principles of design transcend fashion as an art.  From a recent Europe trip, she took a painting lesson from a Van Gogh art historian and teacher at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. With her affinity to fine art, Tancer creates a body of work with artistic disciplines of shape, form, color, and line that serve both function and aesthetic appeal.

I started painting wall art as therapy to get my mind off the nausea. The paintings were just so-so but the drop cloth on the floor was very interesting.

Susan Tancer Studios_Love and Ladybug Graffiti
Susan Tancer Studios | Love and Ladybug Graffiti

The Graffiti collection manifest these disciplines with an abstract look from a paint stained drop cloth.  “I started painting wall art as therapy to get my mind off the nausea.  The paintings were just so-so but the drop cloth on the floor was very interesting,” Tancer says.  The design basis of Graffiti is an improvisational technique of taking color out of a paint brush on to a drop cloth.  I basically put my canvas on my painting table as a tablecloth, I clean my brush on the cloth and paint flowers, hearts and quotes in no particular pattern with whatever paint left on my brush. I then fill in any white space with bright colors.  After I cut them into clutches, I mix up the tops and bottoms.”

The artistic process of creating each bag is not only in the body of the bag, but the ornamentation has it’s process and story, as well.  “I form clay shapes and may add whatever I can find – nuts and bolts, vintage buttons, used paint brushes, single earrings, foreign coins, vintage game pieces, found metal objects, etc.  I collect a lot of interesting pieces whenever I travel.  I just came home with vintage dominoes from Sweden, crystal animal brooches from Germany, wooden sailboats from France, and a very old brass protractor from Amsterdam.”

Susan Tancer Studios_Painted Fused Glass Graffiti Clutch
Susan Tancer Studios | Painted Fused Glass Graffiti Clutch

Tancer’s work is like a structural design study of how life is not separate from art.  She wears ‘life’ well, given her battle with cancer, and shares her appreciation with a Hebrew Chai symbol for life painted in each of her bags.

Tancer’s work has been exhibited in the Boca Museum of Art, Boca Raton, Florida.

Congratulations Susan!  Keep creating the magic.  I wish you continued success.

Susan Tancer’s Graffiti collection is exhibited – Blurred Boundaries: Fashion as an Art; 21 September – 11 November, 2018, In the Annex of GraySpace Gallery, Santa Barbara, California.

For more information, click Susan Tancer Studios

photos courtesy of Susan Tancer Studios; feature photo: Susan Tancer