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With Paint and Animal Parts, Suzy Savoy Explores Death, Life and Home

From Suzy Savoy's Offerings, at PIrate Contemporary Art.
From Suzy Savoy's Offerings, at PIrate Contemporary Art.
Suzy Savoy
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On a hot day in Gainesville, Georgia, a young Suzy Savoy was riding with her mom in the family truck. They noticed a dead fox in the middle of the road. To the average Joe, it would be roadkill to drive by without a second thought. But to Savoy and her mom, this fox had a life story that abruptly came to an end, a story they should preserve. So Savoy's mom pulled over, scooped up the fox's carcass, placed it in a cooler in the back of the truck, and took the dead animal to a local taxidermist.

"I have always had a fascination with roadkill and other dead things," explains Savoy, who confronts death in her solo exhibit Offerings at Pirate Contemporary Art in Lakewood, September 4 through September 20. "My mom had a unique way to show love and compassion to things that had been completely discarded. Our house was filled with roadkill taxidermy."

Growing up with her parents and two younger brothers on Lake Lanier, Savoy and her family boasted various taxidermied foxes, coyotes and even a few pheasants. There were five living dogs, some horses, a peacock named Peaky, a pig named Barbecue, and a tarantula named Fluffy. Savoy's childhood was rich with love and adventure.

One of those adventures, courtesy of Savoy's mom, included a family trip to a mud-hut-filled Kenyan village where they participated in a bloodletting ceremony — a ritualized self-cutting or piercing of one's body as a way to speak to the gods. This ceremony was for a cow, and its neck was punctured with a dull blade so the blood could be added to a gourd filled with cow's milk and urine.

"My mom has always been a big believer in learning about the world and experiencing it as a way to understand and accept other people," Savoy says. "Any opportunity she would get, she was taking us on some bizarre vacation.

Painter Suzy Savoy tackles death, life, rebirth, and humans' connection to nature in her work.
Painter Suzy Savoy tackles death, life, rebirth, and humans' connection to nature in her work.
Photo Courtesy of Suzy Savoy

"This by far was a beautiful experience," Savoy continues, "filled with some of the most genuinely kind humans that brought us into their homes, showed us their way of life and shared their time with strangers. We sang and danced and watched the sunset together."

Another adventure included a nightly boat ride off the coast of Ecuador.

"There was bioluminescent algae in the water, and I was afraid that it was being illuminated by a reef we were about to drive right into," Savoy recalls. "But we just moved right through it. Then I thought I was hallucinating as a result of our malaria medicine. Then it appeared again in several streaks, manifesting in the dark water.

"We ran to the front of the boat," Savoy continues, "when magically, dolphins emerged, surrounded in flecks of light. They would jump out of the water and completely disappear only to dive back in, being completely lit up. When the display ended, we immediately questioned if it had actually happened at all."   

Another piece in Savoy's Offerings.
Another piece in Savoy's Offerings.
Photo Courtesy of Suzy Savoy

Another Savoy family adventure included a vacation to the Centennial State in the summer of 1996 to flee the August heat in Georgia. As they saw the mountains, Savoy's mom declared that she was not going back to Georgia, and Colorado became Savoy's new home. She did trek back to her home state and spent part of her college years at Savannah College of Art and Design, but decided to finish her BFA in painting from Colorado's Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design.

Now 36, she lives in southwest Denver, and has a multitude of art exhibits at various galleries in Denver, South Carolina, New Mexico and more under her belt. Savoy works as a pastel maker at Terry Ludwig Pastels in Littleton, and she's preparing for Offerings, which she describes as offerings of herself, including the animals she grew up with, through paintings and animal parts.

"Most of the animal or animal parts are creatures of the South, monsters from my home," Savoy says. "These creatures have always created a feeling of safety for me — even the ones most people are scared of. They make me feel at home, like I'm not alone. This is my attempt to share that feeling with others during such a painful and confusing time."

Most of Savoy's work explores the subjects of death, life, rebirth, and human connection with nature. She says they're what all humans have in common: love, laughter and dying.

"No one truly escapes death," Savoy says. "It doesn't matter how much money you have, where you live [or] how hard you love. We all experience death. That binds every living creature and organism."

Creating a feeling of home is crucial during this pandemic, a time when people are losing their jobs or loved ones, masks are mandatory, and normal seems more and more like a page out of a storybook. Even art shows are unusual. Those unable to attend the physical opening at Pirate at 6 p.m. on September 4 can visit Savoy's website for a virtual exhibition and purchase her work there.

While this isn't the type of opening Savoy is used to, she's ready to try it out.

"Artists are masters at problem-solving and adapting to what is put in front of them," Savoy explains. "I plan to keep an open mind and have no expectations."

Offerings and Lullaby, by Tiffany Matheson, open from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, September 4, at Pirate: Contemporary Art, 7130 West 16th Avenue in Lakewood. For more about Savoy's work, visit her website.

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