Into the Mystic

Susan Waters-Eller’s “City Planning,” oil over collage on panels.

Study a Susan Waters-Eller drawing or painting long enough, and a kind of pleasant disorientation takes over, with galaxies, universes and cosmos—both psychic and physical—weaving and warping in splendor and symphony in front of your eyes. You can get lost in space. An admitted admirer of the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, Waters-Eller’s sometimes black-and-white, sometimes exotically hued works (karmic mandalas, sci-fi storyboards, topographical dreamscapes), like Escher’s, challenge and illuminate perception. Both artists make you think hard.

In fact, pondering what you’re seeing lies at the heart (and soul) of Waters-Eller’s artistic esthetic. “Art conveys ideas that need to be shown, not told,” she explains. “I’m always trying to point out how much we don’t know, how much is hidden.” Not surprisingly, she calls her deep-thoughts blog “Seeing Meaning.”

Now 66, Waters-Eller has been drawing and painting forever: “I can’t remember when I didn’t. It was creating a world of my own.” And she has spent not quite forever—the past 38 years—teaching as a member of the Fine Arts faculty at MICA, where she earned her BFA in 1972, her MFA in 1978 and an MA in digital arts in 1998.

Her two contributions to MICA’s current “Baltimore Rising” exhibition (see p. 37) adroitly demonstrate how Waters-Eller meshes thought and image: The beautifully bleak “City Planning” depicts how urban highways can create a discrete racial divide (consider the JFX), while the vertiginously ominous “The Production of a Free Workforce” posits how capitalism can engender racism in the justice system.

“I think art can aid the evolution of human thinking,” she says, “by enlarging the scope of awareness and focusing attention on relationships and connections.”

> Learn more about Waters-Eller’s work at

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