Artist Studio | Susan Tibbles

By Wolf Schneider

You’re a constructionist in the style of Joseph Cornell, known for your social-commentary assemblages and collages?

I don’t do collages so much as I do found objects and construction. I think of collage as paper.

How did you start working for the Los Angeles Times?

The art director was at one of my L.A. openings. He called me a week later. I was hoping he was asking me for a date. [Laughs] He asked if I’d do a piece for a story.

When he hires you for an assemblage, how tight of a turnaround is it?

Oh, a day to two days. I do the assemblage and my photographer shoots it and e-mails it to them.

Do you know when one is coming, like always on Mondays?

No, they surprise me all the time. They call me in my studio. I did a piece on Katrina with hurricane glass and a mask and photos of blues players.

You live in Santa Barbara, considered the American Riviera. Did you grow up there?

Yes I did, and I love it.

Are you near the beach, or where?

In Montecito, up in the hills.

You’ve used everything from peacock feathers to rolling pins to parasols in your assemblages. Do you sometimes obtain these items from the trash?

I go mostly to antique and thrift stores. I try to run through the ones in Santa Barbara once or twice a week, just whip in and whip out. We get great estate sales up here, too.

I hear you’ve been known to fearlessly drive into south central L.A. to dumpster dive?

Well, it wasn’t fearless. I kind of got lost, and there I was. I saw two old chairs sitting out for the rubbish to pick up. Really nice legs on the chairs. I keep a bar and a hammer in my car for just these occasions, so I went out and started banging the legs off. [Laughs]

Enterprising! Where did you study art?

I didn’t; I’m self-taught. No college. I lived in Aspen, CO, for a number of years in the 1980s. I was a cocktail waitress in a private club. I started doing the artwork in 1990.

Your studio’s at your home. It’s Spanish-style, with ironwork and a portal?

Mmm-hmm, built in 1942. It’s kind of Spanish revival. Nice thick walls, lots of arches.

Tell me about the studio—how big is it?

It’s 12 by 12 feet; it’s a bedroom. It overlooks Los Padres National Forest—oak trees, pine trees, palms, yuccas, sycamores.

What kind of flooring?

I drop so much stuff that I put black carpet down.

What do you consider your forte when it comes to artwork?

Taking everyday objects and rethinking them.

What quality have you decided an artist must have, and what quality will only do an artist in?

An artist must be driven. They can’t get stagnant.

Which artist, living or dead, would you most like to trade a piece of art with?

I’m a Rauschenberg groupie.

What’s the range that your work sells for?

Oh, $900 to $5,000.

What does an artist need most: a good accountant, a good truck, or a good red wine?

A good red wine—a pinot noir!

When you reach the end of your time in this world, what sentence would accurately sum up your life?

“She wouldn’t have done anything differently.”

Tibbles is represented by Sue Greenwood Fine Art, Laguna Beach, CA; Denise Roberge Art Gallery, Palm Desert, CA; and Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica, CA.

Featured in “My World” May 2006