Suzanne Villella: Shuffling History and Art in a Deck of Cards
🎨 Immerse yourself in the imaginative world of Suzanne Villella, a Tucson artist who reshapes our view of history and art through the unique medium of playing cards.
- Artistic Shuffle: Discover Suzanne’s journey from conventional art forms to her innovative playing card creations.
- Tucson’s Tale in a Deck: Learn how each card captures a fragment of Arizona’s rich heritage and Suzanne’s personal inspirations.
- Beyond the Canvas: Explore the broader implications of Suzanne’s work on local art culture and community engagement.
🔍 Dive Deeper Intrigued by Suzanne’s artistic narrative? We invite you to delve into the full transcript below for a more comprehensive understanding of her vision and the impact of her art on Tucson’s landscape.
📣 Join the Conversation Do you have insights or questions about Suzanne Villella’s unique artistry? Are you inspired to nominate a community member whose story deserves to be told? Reach out to Tom Heath and become part of our vibrant community dialogue.
Good morning. It’s a beautiful sunny in the old Pueblo and you’re listening to KTTT Tucson. Thank you for spending a part of your brunch hour with us. On your downtown Tucson community -sponsored, all -volunteer -powered rock and roll radio station. On this week’s show we’re going to speak with Suzanne Villela, a local artist who recently completed her first set of mixed -media playing cards. This Arizona anti -series celebrates the history, the culture, and the beauty of Arizona, and it’s going to be shown as a complete collection for the very first time next Saturday at the Steinfeld Gallery in downtown Tucson and we get a chance to talk with Suzanne in just a moment. Today is January 28th, 2024. My name is Tom Heath and you’re listening to Life Along the Streetcar. Each and every Sunday our focus is on social, cultural, and economic impacts in Tucson’s urban core and we shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about. From A Mountain to the University of Arizona and all stops in
between, you get the inside track right here on 99 .1 FM, streaming on downtownradio .org. Also available on your iPhone or Android with our very own Downtown Radio Tucson app. And then for the show, if you wanna interact with us, we recommend you do that on Facebook and Instagram. And if you want more information about us, our book, maybe past episodes, or just wanna contact us, head over to our website, which is lifealongthestreetcar .org. And of course, our podcast is out there for you too on places like Spotify, iHeart, radio, iTunes, lots of places where you would find your favorite podcast. And if you’re looking for your things to do, you know, we always get to this time of year and people are like, oh, tell us all the things that are happening and sometimes we’ll do a show just about the events and we’ll probably get one of those coming up here soon, but in the meantime, head over to downtowntucson .org, the website. There’s an events calendar and they do a great job of collecting
events submitted by the general public there as to what’s going on. And these are simple things like sales at restaurants all the way through tours, music concerts. And our guest today, her art debut exhibit is gonna be listed there on that website. So I recommend you check that out if you were looking for things to do in the downtown area. And then you’ve also got the Historic Fourth Avenue, the Mercado, and Main Gate Square. All of those have their own websites with calendars and all those things happening. So we invite you to check those out. And then if you see something you like that’s not on there, let us know and we’ll share that through our social media channels. Our guest today is Suzanne Volella and she is not a Tucson native. She’s been here quite a while and she’s explored the state extensively and she is an artist who has created a series of playing cards and these are just in my opinion spectacular examples of mixed -media art and they portray the suits just like a deck of
cards you would expect and they also celebrate Tucson and and really the entire state of Arizona’s history and culture the beautiful outdoors and Just the diversity that we represent here in Arizona And they’re all throughout this set of playing cards, and she’s gonna debut them as an exhibit It’s next Saturday at the Steinfeld Warehouse. So we wanted to sit down and chat with her, kind of get an idea of where this inspiration came from and what this exhibit is all about. And we’re here today with a noted and a very well -known here Tucson artist I’m finding out. Suzanne Vilela, welcome to Lifelong Streetcar. Thanks Tom, I’m happy to be here. And as I understand it, Tucson is not sort of your origin. You’ve kind of been all over the place. Correct. So, I grew up in St. Louis. Came out to study art and art history at the University of Arizona. A few years later, I met a young man and he was in the Air Force and we traveled the world and his last assignment was here in Tucson and we stayed.
So, we have settled here. So, and you’ve really kind of gotten, been embracing in the arts community. How long have you been then in Tucson? Five and a half years now. Oh, okay. Yeah. And that were you as you were in these different cities across the globe were you doing art there as well? Yes, every time we moved which was 13 times in 20 years. I had to find a new Place to hang my work to be represented. It was just up to me to find To find a home for my work as we moved We have in the Tucson Gallery I’ve seen a lot of your work and if you want to know a little bit more about Suzanne’s backstory where you can head over to thetucsongallery .com. We did a full interview with a lot of your backstory on the Meet the Artist podcast. One thing I noticed about your art is it’s very, and a very Southwestern feel to it. I mean, you’ve absorbed the Southwest and it comes through your art. So is that what happens in each one of these cities where you embrace what you’re presented with and that becomes
your? Well, it’s funny that you say that because my dad is always giving me guidance since he says you need to paint for your audience. So, when we lived in Europe for four years, of course, most of my subject matter was European rooftops and, you know, walking trails and whatnot. No cowboy boots? No cowboy boots. But when we moved back to Arizona, I love it so much. There was so much to embrace and to create about, you know, so inspiring, the sunsets, the people, the cultures, the great outdoors, the big skies, the agave, the interesting vegetation that we have here. So it’s really unique. How does that, like, how does that come to you? Do you, do you just go out and explore for a while and then you get this vision? Or do you, you sort of have an idea of what it’s going to be before you even get to Tucson and find out what you’re looking for? You know, I like to be outside. I like to hike. I like to just wander and visit different galleries and different areas. So being out on the hiking
trails is part of how I got into the agaves. Again, I’m always taking pictures. My boots, I have two boots, Partner and Pretty Top. Those were for a show five years ago. My sister and I always laugh about Tucson being the wild, wild west, because it still has a lot of that to it. So those are super playful and fun, but I love painting the agaves and just inspired by my surroundings. So you said you take a lot of pictures then, do you create off of the photographs or is that just sort of inspiration for you? Do you look at a photograph and say, okay, now I’m gonna do this agave from this photo I took? Absolutely, as sometimes I’ll take the pictures intentionally knowing, boy, that’s good looking. The shadow’s right, the lighting is perfect. What a great painting this would make. So a lot of times I start with the image Or, you know, some of the animals have been in our front yard, like the rabbits or this beautiful bobcat that was kind of posing in the front yard. And I shot that one and
that actually became a painting. So you just never know what you’re going to see. Photographs shot. You didn’t go out and you don’t have like a rabbit hanging over your mantle or anything like that? I wanted to make sure. All photographs. Wanted to make sure. So then your art, you’ve been in Tucson for five plus years, but your art is in a lot of places. We have it at the Tucson Gallery, but you were in many places before that. So you got involved with like the Arts Guild pretty quickly. Yes. I wanted a home for my work and I wanted a creative family, which I didn’t have. Being an Air Force spouse, I might meet one or two artists along the way, but there was never like an organized group putting on shows, putting on educational programs, working together, everyone was just really independent. So I got involved with the Southern Arizona Art Guild. It is great for networking. And, you know, that’s it led me to you all down at the Tucson Gallery. You know, it’s why it’s great. Yeah, yeah,
exactly. So yeah, it’s just educational community service, um, just being around a lot of creative people and they know someone that knows someone and it’s just, it grows your creative environment. And then they operate a store out of Alcantara. Yes. Yeah. So there’s a lot of, uh, a lot of, uh, artists that collect there and, and it’s a collaborative. So the artists do a little work there as well as. Exactly. So if you have your work in the guild, you need to volunteer shifts. It’s a not -for -profit, um, that’s the only way they can, they can stay in the space is But people love to be with the artists, right? Absolutely like people go to art festivals and Might like a piece but meeting the artist isn’t as a selling point. So yeah, we do this connection Well, you can get that history and that thought process and what with that inspiration It really adds to to looking at a piece of art. I see that all of the time Yeah, and then yours is in particular is interesting because you use different
types of of art styles. I mean, you paint, but you also have like a collage style. Yes, exactly. How does that all come together? So I use acrylic paint in my work, but I found that it felt a little flat for what I wanted, the message I wanted to convey. So I incorporated paper underneath my paintings and you can see the papers pop through and there might be some hidden symbolism or fun surprises. It just makes the work more playful. There’s the one that I the first time I saw this and I looked at this painting multiple times before I saw it but it’s a it’s an agave and it’s on a map. Yes. And so the sort of what you would see is like the leaves and the veins of the agave as you get closer their streets and their their highways and it just once you see it you can’t unsee it but it blends right in you don’t it’s not doesn’t pop out necessarily so it’s just fascinating to me. It’s fun because people love to find their city. They’re studying something or you have to look closely. They’ll look
at one of the pieces and then they’ll be like, oh my gosh, you know, I’m from Surprise. You know, I love seeing Surprise, Arizona on the maps because it’s the additional surprise. But people might love seeing Tucson or Nogales. If they’re from those areas, it just pulls them into the painting a little more. And five and a half years ago is when you got to Tucson, right? So, you’ve been in Tucson but then you’ve explored Arizona quite a bit. I love it. Yes, yes. We’ve been skiing Sedona, out to the petroglyphs, at picture rocks. I don’t think there’s enough time to explore Arizona. It is got so many landscapes, canyons, mountains, lakes. Well, that’s a perfect segue into exploring and a perfect way to explore Arizona. is the reason why we’re airing the show this week is because on Saturday, February 3rd, you have your own show. You’ve got, it’s not in any other galleries at the Steinfeld Warehouse, but this is your own show and it’s a very special project. Can you tell us more about it?
Sure. So going back to when we lived overseas, I was really intrigued with all the playing cards that I would see at the flea markets. They were really unique and really bizarre suits and setups. And I was just really intrigued. So I started researching those a little more and getting the history of what we would consider the American playing card. And I did a four season series. But when we moved back to Arizona, I was like, wouldn’t it be fun to celebrate the heritage, the culture, the landscape, the creatures that we see in Arizona, because there are so many. I mean, Arizona is so broad, it has so many different types of people and influence. We are in the middle of our interview with a Suzanne Varela, the artist who created Arizona Ante, a mixed -media representation of Arizona’s beauty and culture through playing cards. We’re gonna get back to the second half of that interview in just a moment. We’re gonna find out more about her exhibit coming up on Saturday, February 3rd. But first
of all, I want to remind you that you’re listening to Life Along the Streetcar and Downtown Radio 99 .1 FM and streaming on DowntownRadio .org Support for Downtown Radio is provided by the
Tucson Gallery located in downtown Tucson inside of the proper shops at 300 East Congress Street. The Tucson Gallery offers original work reproductions and merchandise from Tucson artists like Joe Pacek, Jessica Gonzalez, Ignacio Garcia and many more. For information about all of the artists including when they will be live at the gallery Head to the TucsonGallery .com or find them on Instagram and on Facebook as
Tucson Gallery. If you’re just joining us, our guest today is a member of the Tucson Gallery. Her name is Suzanne Villela. She also has artwork at La Encantada as part of the Southern Arizona Arts Guild shop up there, and you’ll see her work throughout town. And this coming Saturday she’s got an of her series, the Arizona Auntie, which is 56 mixed -media art playing cards. And she’s talking to us kind of about the origins of this project and more in this second half year what we can expect from her exhibit on Saturday. I created 10 mixed -media playing cards originally, and they were all face cards. And we had a bikini, queenie, and a cowboy, and a queen of denim and diamonds, and I was encouraged by a mentor to really create a pole deck of cars celebrating Arizona. And it’s been a wonderful journey, and this is a series that will be, really could be endless, because there’s so many things going on in our state. There’s so many creatures, activities, types of people. So you’re saying you’ve
created a deck of mixed media art that is 56 pieces in total, all the suits, all the cards, plus the jokers, and you’re saying that is like the beginning that you might do this again with something else? Of course. Oh my gosh. I’ve already started to create other cards that will be so people can enjoy seeing my process that will be at this exhibit, because I want it to be educational as well. that’s part of meeting the artist and understanding, how did they get to this point? How did they create this? I think a series could be endless. But it celebrates Arizona. I love Arizona. I went to school in Arizona. I’ve moved back twice. We’ve settled here. There’s a lot to celebrate about our state. And then each one of the, and this is something I learned from you as we were exploring this project, all of the suits, they have sort of their own meaning. like the clubs, there’s a certain history behind the clubs. LS Right. So, clubs are summer. So, each suit has a season and each suit has a religious
background or a social class. So, it’s just so fascinating. Some king or spades are leadership and warriors and winter. So, each club has a different meaning and that will be explained at the show as well. And so then all the cards you have the individual number and then the end of the suit So those can sort of combine to create the theme of that card, right? Right. This is in create How long have you been working on this? My first playing card from this series was created in 2020 Okay, and then I took some time off because I was working on other for this series though But you you created things before that or that there was the very first time you ever created a card was in 2020 I first created a card in 2015 and did the four seasons because the suits, spades are winter, hearts are spring, clones are summer, and diamonds are autumn. So, I took that to a complete level and this series that will be done at Steinfeld, all of the spades have a winter theme. It’s all tied into the seasons and
the meaning behind the cards. It’s very well thought out. I was going to say, let’s talk about the intentionality of this exhibit. So a little bit more about the location, the time and all of that stuff, because it’s not just one day, it’s the entire month. The show will be hanging the whole month of February. The opening is from four to nine on February 3rd. And then subsequent Saturdays in February, the gallery will be open from noon to five. However, I will be there if someone wants to stop by, they can call me and have a personal walkthrough of the show. PAUL And then you’ve got it set up, you’re not just putting art on the walls, you’ve got them arranged in patterns, suits, and hands. KRISTEN Yes. So I have, I’m collaborating with Madeline Wick, who is a visual merchandising manager of the SAG Gallery up at L ‘Encontable.
Oh, okay. I didn’t realize that’s how you guys connect. KRISTEN Yeah, and she’s super clever and young and fresh, and she is hanging the show based on different poker hands. And it’s been a challenge to get one deck of cards into poker hands, and she’s done an amazing job. And she also has a deeper meaning, like one hand might be the Spanish and Mexican influences and heritage for the state of Arizona. So it’s quite complex. It’s not just throw them all up there. It’s well thought out. and then all of this will be explained at the exhibit. And then you’ve got some works in progress so people can see how these cards were layered, so to speak, and they’ve come into life. LS Correct. And we’ve had a deck of cards made so people can sit down and play cards. Pete Of actual cards. Because how big are your originals? LS They’re 12 by 16. Pete Okay. A little hard to shuffle those. LS Yeah. Pete But they’ve never been displayed in totality. LS Ever. Pete Ever. LS Ever. It’s gonna be really exciting.
Pete Yeah. LS Yeah. and they’re just the looking at some of them to get because they’re you know like with some of the face cards they’re you know they’re mirrors you’ve got a they’ve got a a face on the top and a face on the bottom and as you look at that you’ve I mean it’s you’ve duplicated that that really well on one on these cards it’s just amazing to me the attention to detail on some of them I love it I um it’s almost ridiculous I make sure that the papers even if you turn up turn the card Yeah. Line up identically. Right. That’s just amazing to me the amount of attention to detail that you put into these and some of them are, they’re all fun but some just stand out a little bit more than others. You talked about some of the face cards are just fun themes and you can see where they tie in with the cycling in Tucson or the skiing in the mountains. You got the loosely associated with some of the mascots around the state.
Yeah. They became the the jokers, right? Yep, and they are funny. Yeah. Yeah, and what I love about these all of these pieces If you study them if you really take the time to look at them, I mean read the wall tag You’ll get the idea. Why did Suzanne create this? Why is this important, but I love hideout things whether it’s a fun paper or words into each piece so or Oh, I don’t want to give anything away, but look at the Heal the Monster. Why is he positioned on the map where he is? So, just I think it will be entertaining if people study him. They will –
a scavenger hunt as well as an art exhibit. Speaking of which, there will be a scavenger hunt. Yep. There will be a scavenger hunt for a free small print and that’ll be available for people to come enjoy. and I did that so people would engage more closely with the pieces. So they might have a little small part of a small image of one of the cards and they’ll have to find that and um…
the exhibit? At the exhibit, at the opening night, yeah. And then you mentioned prints, I just, I want to make sure I’m clear on this because this is a, an art exhibit and clearly you’re selling your art, you’re selling the originals but you’ve also created reproductions and… Yeah. So people can take home their favorite poker hand or – Absolutely. And I encourage them to do so. I think that’s, some people will get a four of a kind of an animal maybe or the craft drinks that they find in Arizona. Whatever people are connected to, some people just love their favorite cards or they want their birthday in a playing card or they want Blackjack, you know. So people can play with it however they’d like. That’s awesome. they find it entertaining. That’s awesome. It kicks off this Saturday, February 3rd. It’s going to go through the month of February. Where do people get more information on the exhibit or you? They can go to my website at www .SuzanneJVallela .com or they can reach out to the
Tucson Gallery downtown who, you know, you all have my information or the Steinfeld Gallery. You can look online at both of those organizations. Okay, um suck. All right. Well fantastic And I have to tell you I I applied for a grant and was I was granted some support from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and That was really a great experience. Maybe they believe in this show and think it’s special too I think you know, this has been rattling around in your brain for almost 10 years and to see it come to life. And over the last probably six, eight months is where I’ve gotten more involved with seeing how it’s come together and the excitement and energy that you bring to it. And that in and of itself is exciting. And I’m looking forward to seeing how these all, because I’ve never seen them all in one place and put out like that. So I’m looking forward to it. I think you’re gonna love it. I think you’re gonna have so much fun. I think it’s just, it’s family friendly, it’s engaging, it’s
unique, and it celebrates our state. Pretty exciting. Perfect. Suzanne, thanks so much for your time. Thanks, Tom. That was Suzanne Vilela, Tucson artist, who is unveiling for the first time a complete collection of her playing card series called Arizona Auntie, celebrating the history, culture, and beauty of our state through these playing cards. You can find out more information through her website. I know on the Tucson Gallery, there’s a posting of all the details and would recommend you also maybe go right to the Steinfeld Warehouse website, check that out, and look at the parking and traffic flow. There is some construction in that area, which makes it look really challenging, but I go through that area quite a bit and it’s actually, there’s plenty of parking and such. So maybe just check out their website if they’ve got any information about the best places to park because there are some paid lots within just a block or so of that that you could park in. And I look forward to chatting
with Suzanne in the future, you know, especially if she unveils a whole nother deck of cards That’s that’s amazing. My name is Tom Heath. You are listening to life along the streetcar in downtown radio 99 .1 FM and we’re streaming on downtown radio org You’re listening to KTDT Tucson, Arizona 99 .1 FM downtown radio I’m brother mark host of a show called radio club crawl that airs every Tuesday at 3 p .m We try to focus on most of the bands that are coming through Tucson, and we give you a tasty taste of their music. If you want to check out what’s happening around Tucson, check out Radio Club Crawl, Tuesdays, 3 p .m., right here on KTDT Tucson, Arizona, 99 .1 FM, Downtown Radio. Thank you very much. Enjoy your evening. Bye -bye. Well, episode 281 is in the books here, but don’t go too far, because at the bottom of the hour here at 1130, we’ve got Ted Przelski with Words and Work, Ty Logan at noon with Heavy Mental, and back into the music at 1 o ‘clock. So stick around all day. There’s
lots of fun things on downtown radio. And if there’s topics out there that you want us to cover that you haven’t heard us discuss yet, well, hit us up. social media is a great way to do that. Instagram, Facebook, tag us, mention something, message us, whatever, however we can get that done. And our suggestion box is filling up for 2024, and I’m excited. We’ve got all kinds of fun projects to talk about. Like next week, we’ve got Shane Reiser with Tucson Foodie, and he’s got an amazing operation happening there all over Tucson with highlighting our fabulous food culture. And he’s going to be talking real specifically about an event in downtown celebrating craft beer but we’ll we’ll pick his brain a little bit about some of all this explosion of culinary expertise in Tucson it seems like which every year there’s a new famous chef moving in or stepping up in our community but that’s Shane Reiser he’ll be here next week and then you know obviously again we want to hear your inputs I mean you’re
listening to a to a hyper local show so you know what’s going on in this town tell us and you know with your comments and your questions and and all of that will get us to our next step there and if you can’t get us on instant on Instagram or Facebook just email us it’s contact at life along the street car org and on that URL is our website with past episodes and there’s a contact button we’re pretty easy to get a hold of my name is Tom Heath I am your host and producer our production specialist is James Portis he’s the man that gets things done behind the scenes so that can enjoy this and share it out there in the world. Thank you to Ryan Hood. Every week they let us use Dillinger Days as our opening theme song and we’re going to leave you today with a group called Busy Signal and this is a 2011 album called Reggae’s Gone Country and a slightly different version of a song you may recognize in honor of the Arizona Auntie playing card series, here’s The Gambler. I hope you have a great week
and tune in next Sunday for more life along the streetcar.
And knowing what the cards were, by the way they held their eyes So if you don’t mind me saying, I can see you’re out of business For a taste of the whiskey, I’ll give you some advice So I handled it in my bottle, and drank down my last swallow Then he bummed the cigarette, and asked me for a light And the night got deathly quiet, and faced hostile expression
Said if you’re gonna play the game, boy, you gotta learn to play it drastically You got to know when to hold it, know when to fall it Know when to walk away, know when to run You never count your money, sitting at the table There’ll be time enough for crying When the dealing’s done
Every gambler knows That the secret to surviving
Is knowing what you’re winning Knowing what you keep Cause every hand’s a winner And every hand’s a loser And the best that you can hope for is to die in his sleep And when he finished speaking, he turned back toward the window Crushed out a cigarette, he faded out to sleep Somewhere in the darkness, the gambler he broke even But in his final words I found a name so that I could keep You got to know when to hold it, know when to fold it, know when to walk away, know when to run. You never pass your line while sitting at the table.