While whimsy is a constant on Susan Munchweiler’s Technicolor canvases covered in blooming cacti in bright acrylics, she’s lately been adding gold leaf foil to her desert landscapes to catch the shadows. “It helps my work stand out,” she says.
So does her impressionistic use of light. Munchweiler captures it in the fibers of yucca plants, in shades of green on organ pipe cacti, and in the orange layers of sunny sky behind pink and purple prickly pears. A sense of humor also helps. In “The Byrds Move to Arizona,” the focal point of her cactus painting is the nest tucked among the spines.
When not working en plein air, she rolls up the sleeves on her Western plaids, turns up Alt Nation playing Glass Animals or M83 on SiriusXM and “goes Zen” at the easel in the living room of her Old Town Scottsdale home. “I don’t sketch out the details. I just start with a color, and I let the painting come to life on the canvas,” she says.
Munchweiler was always artistic. As a child growing up in a Pennsylvania coal town, she’d pull the tissue out of her mother’s new nylon stockings and use it to trace the Sunday newspaper comics. She studied visual communications at Kent State University and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh before moving to Phoenix in 1974, where she worked as a graphic designer. When she took time off to start a family, painting became a pastime. In 2015, it became her second career, and she started selling her art online and showing at galleries and festivals around town.
Munchweiler says she’s “obsessed” with cacti and succulents, which are frequent subjects of her paintings. “I think my creativity comes from being a little nuts,” she says.
View Munchweiler’s work at etsy.com/shop/arrisstudios.
— Jackie Dishner
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