A Portrait of Society by a Young Woman

When Susy Bielak created the collection “Gestures with Flowers and Hands,” mixed media drawings of politicians shaking hands and offering flowers to allies, she focused on the symbolism of hands and the stories they tell through their actions. But this depiction of ceremonial handshakes and flower arrangements in dark charcoal grays and vibrant reds only foreshadowed the applause and congratulatory bouquets she was soon to receive.

In fact, on Sept. 2 —when the UCSD graduate was named New Artist of the Year by the San Diego Fine Art Society — the appreciation poured in. To commemorate the start of San Diego Art Month, the first annual Fine Arts Awards recognized notable local artists whose projects enrich the San Diego community. Winners were chosen via a public vote on the Society’s website. Bielak, one of four recipients, had her work showcased as part of a collection entitled “Here Not There,” at the La Jolla galleries of the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art until Sept. 19.

Born in Mexico City and raised in Pennsylvania, Bielak relocated to San Diego four years ago to pursue a masters degree in fine arts, which she received in 2009. Due to her diverse upbringing, Bielak said that “questions of hybrid identity and issues of space have long propelled my work.”

Her artwork focuses on exposing the contrast between the personal and the social elements of society. For example, her series of monotypes entitled “Aerial Gaze” depicts people walking on a sidewalk as seen from a second story window.

“The project offers the proximity to witness people intimately and the distance to envision them as patterns,” she said.

Bielak frequently employs uncommon techniques to produce her artwork. One of her multimedia projects, entitled “Quake/Temblor,” uses old photos and seismographic records to portray the widespread effects of earthquakes on both the human and geographic levels. In the past she has applied sketchbook text and drawings onto bus doors, and drawn with water on opaque plastic to reference subtleties of memory.

“My projects often incorporate nontraditional materials and processes in order to best render an idea,” she said.

Bielak explained that her unconventional use of materials and her wide array of subjects make her work more relatable, and allow her to connect with her audience in myriad ways.

“I’m touched when the work strikes a chord with audience members—when my projects propel questions, inspire reflection, or invite people to see a social issue in a new way,” she said.

Bielak, now Associate Director of Art and Technology at Sixth College, credits UCSD’s research capability as one of the factors that aided her career.

“Having access to the resources and minds of this campus allowed me to take a huge leap forward in the scope of my work,” she said.

Bielak’s newest project is a work in progress that consists of drawings of materials taken from her kitchen cupboard and medicine cabinet, as well as engravings on kitchen tables.

“These experiments are exciting,” she says, as is “the process” of creating the art itself.

But in both art and life, finding the right “process” to achieve a goal can be half the battle.

“Figure out what you really want,” Bielak advised, “and keep pushing until you get it.”

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