row2k Features
row2k Interview
An Artist at Worlds: Susan Wood
November 3, 2022
John FX Flynn

In addition to all the racing in Racice at the recent World Championships, the Czech Rowing Association sponsored an international art exhibition right at the grandstands--focused, naturally, on rowing-inspired art.

Presented in collaboration with the Sport in Art platform and the National Olympic Water Sports Centre (CZE), the free exhibition featured over twenty Czech artists and three international contributors--among them, Team USA coach Susan Wood.

Susan Wood
Susan Wood

Wood, who coached the Para Mixed Double at the 2022 Worlds, was contacted by the curators and asked to ship three of her paintings to Racice for the exhibition.

"I’ve been a photographer my whole life,” Wood told row2k. “Whenever I photograph, I always imagine how I would paint it.

"I didn't start oil painting until two years ago, and acrylic painting about seven years ago, but I thought about painting so much that I automatically enjoyed it. Plus, knowing Photoshop, which is layers, that is how I think: in layers of paint."

We asked about the kinds of things she can see with her “photographer’s eye” when she composes her paintings:

"I notice compositions, angles, reflections, especially when the boat's traveling through the water and just how the water reacts."

"As rower, I know how special it is to be so close to the water, and I love it. And as a coach, I'm constantly observing how their boat is moving: I look at how their wake is or how their puddles are, the distance between sets. It's how I see; it's not really that I have to think about it. It's just how I see."

"Morning Row"

One of Wood's pieces, "Pair," is an abstract representation of the angles and measurements used to rig a pair-oared shell.

"I had a dream one night about a month ago about rigging," said Wood about that work. "It was very graphic dream: shapes and colors and stuff. I went immediately to my studio after coaching in the morning and painted four paintings. That abstract one is one of the four. I wanted to send a larger one, but they didn't want me to send such a large one."

In "Pair," Wood said, "each shape is what you would measure as you rig, and in my brain that kind of made sense. So it's a rigging chart.


"I watch rowing every single day, and you get used to the angles, the distance, the play of the blade through the water, and the distance between the puddles to where the blades go in again. In my brain, in this dream, everything was really wild colors and it just kind of all came together."

In the two other works Woods had on display--"Morning Row" and "Double Scull"--the defining feature which draws the eye are the wakes and puddles left behind the moving shell.

"Often times, we row in the Multnomah Channel in Portland, Oregon," said Wood, "and it's calm and mirrorlike, so I'm just entranced by the pattern that boats and blades leave behind."

"Double Scull"

"The one I did with the double, I exaggerated the puddles. It's just so fascinating how much the water changes and just the reflection of the landscape or the light or a bridge or whatever. It changes and it's so dynamic. I take a million photographs of this, and I look forward to painting more."

Wood said that the experience of combining her art with her coaching at Worlds was a unique experience.

"They had this opening reception and they invited the artists who were there to stand up. It was fun: all the Czech artists were there, dressed all artsy, and I was there wearing just wearing my Team USA vest.

"I've been coaching for 40 years. I was here 20 years ago coaching a Masters team at FISA Worlds, and rowing myself. I coached at the Olympics 18 years ago. To have all that come together and be invited to be part of the show as an artist was very special.

"When you do what you love, and I do follow my passion of what I love, things just kind of unfold, and that was really a special moment."

You can find more of Wood's art on Instagram (@susanwoodartist) or at her more of the artworks from the Row Row Row Racice show can be found in the row2k Worlds galleries.

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