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Susan Contreras

Artist Statement

"Storytelling is my passion. When I place masks on the characters in my paintings, the energy becomes amplified. Surprise is the power of masks, not bound by conventional expectations. Once a mask is donned the magic begins for the viewer and my muses!"


Susan Contreras was born in Mexico City into a family that had a rich heritage in the Arts. She moved to California at the age of five with her family. Her mother, Mary Armstrong, was an artist and she gave Susan many opportunities to create in her studio fostering her interest in art.

Contreras received a BPA from Brooks Institute of Photography, a BFA from the College of Creative Studies and an MFA both at UCSB. Attendance at a workshop with Nathan Oliveira convinced her to pursue a full-time career as an artist. Since 1982, Contreras and her deceased husband, artist Elias Rivera, lived and painted in Santa Fe, NM.  

In 1995, a transformation in her practice occurred, Contreras began painting masked figures. Susan attributes much of her success to a long association with Parks Gallery in Taos, NM as they promoted and encouraged her to embrace the unpredictability of masks. Masks remain the most recognizable feature of her artwork.

Contreras’ work is included in national publications and major collections including: The University of Oklahoma, The Fred Jones Museum of Art in Norman, OK, The Bennett Collection of Women Realists, The Kessler Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts Santa Fe, The National Hispanic Cultural Center, and Albuquerque Museum Of Fine Art.

In 2021 Susan was awarded the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in New Mexico. Georgia O’Keefe was an earlier recipient of this prestigious award.