Talking to Suzanne Perlman

“Hello darling,” greets Suzanne Perlman as we begin our conversation, the 91 year old artist who will exhibit 40 of her paintings in a new exhibition entitled ‘Painting London’ at the Ben Uri Gallery opening this week, is as filled with vitality as her affecting art. The exhibition is a celebration of her 90th year and of the 25 years that she has lived in London, the city she has fallen in love with. The pieces follow her brush as it takes a guided tour of London, through parks, Covent Garden, the Houses of Parliament and displaying a broad vista of the river Thames, including the London Eye and much more. Her expressionist fluidity emotes feeling, capturing a time and place in its moment.

Perlman is just as impressive and inspirational as her paintings. When we spoke she was full of enthusiasm, clarity and passion for the process of creating these magnificent pieces. Perlman, who paints every day, described the painting of such well known landmarks, “I am inspired every time, every day. There are so many phases of seeing things in depth. There is a joy in seeing life in a different way, through different eyes.” Perlman never tires of painting as she explained, “I get better from the challenge of it. Art is a process that refines the soul.”

Born in Budapest in 1923, she moved to Rotterdam where she married her Dutch husband Henri. They escaped The Netherlands and the Holocaust by moving to the Caribbean island of Curacao, off the Venezuelan coast, where they lived for over 20 years. She accepted her calling when a local man wanted to buy her very first portrait. When she asked him why he wanted her picture, he said it was because the painting had weight. Perlman went on to be one of 12 students selected by the famous Austrian expressionist Oscar Kokoschka, she expressed “being in his presence was so overpowering, it was a great pleasure to be with a master, he knew more than I knew.” And she admits, “I always take some of his influences in to my work, he was very important.”

It was her move to London, motivated by the desire to send her children to Carmel College which she describes as “the best Jewish education for our children”, that acted as the catalyst for the creation of these landscapes. She explained “I was so inspired by the heritage, I wanted to respond to it, anywhere I go I feel I have to respond, the way you respond is the way you are made. Paint what you feel, history, heritage; it is all part of the soul. This is what you are striving for, an ethos, and another perspective.” She continues, “I could only speak by painting. Painting is a kind of writing, speaking a language without words.”

When asked what she hopes the viewer will gain from seeing her works, she said philosophically “People seem to connect with it, without even knowing much about me.” Then she began to tell me a story about an exhibit in Central America, where she hung a painting of a memorial to the Holocaust. “A Dutch woman had come every day and sat meditating before this painting, she wanted to buy it. I had to speak to her and ask her why she liked this particular painting. The lady explained to me that she was adopted by a Dutch family after her entire family were killed in the holocaust. The painting had no name, only a number.” Suzanne Perlman paused and concluded softly in her rich distinctive accent, “People feel art.”

Part of the revenue from works sold at the exhibition will be going towards Israeli and Jewish charities. The exhibition runs from 30th April – 17th May at the The Gallery, 28 Cork Street.