Patsy Surh O’Connell’s Splendid “Discovery of Nature” at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College

by Lynette Charters Serembe

When you walk into The Gallery at Tacoma Community College and see Patsy Surh O’Connell’s solo show Discovery of Nature you are greeted with a radiant display of magnificence and excellence. Surh O’Connell’s rich and detailed watercolors are like the artist herself, elegant and refined with an inner complexity, wisdom, and intellect. They show a rare and quiet dedication and stamina which reflects all aspects of Surh O’Connell’s life.

Four Seasons,Winter, Chinese ink on rice paper by Patsy Surh O’Connell

Born in China to Korean parents, she grew up in Korea and immigrated to the US in 1963. She graduated in Interior Design at Rudolph Schaefer School of Design in San Francisco and has studied art of many disciplines including Chinese ink painting, Sumi-e, oil, watercolor, pastel, acrylic, lapidary, weaving, pottery, quilting and batik; Surh O’Connell has been a water media teacher at the college level for 37 years.

Patsy Surh O’Connell 

Surh O’Connell’s art practice is hugely extensive in part due to her husband, Wallace working in US service, they had two sons and a daughter, and as a family unit moved around quite a bit. She studied art in Korea, Japan (Okinawa), China and the US.  She says visiting many countries made her realize that we all need and want the same things except we go about it in different ways because of our different cultures; she says she benefitted from having exposure to diverse art and cultural experiences.

Among her many accomplishments, she has a love of sewing and used to sew all her clothes. She said while travelling she had the opportunity to learn new things and collect various materials. Her husband suggested she stay with one discipline; she entertained this idea and took the wealth of what she had learned and the materials she had collected and applied them to her work. Her knowledge and understanding of different materials and disciplines allowed her to be more open, inclusive, and freer about how to express herself; always looking for materials with the best inherent language for the things she wants to communicate. She thinks outside the box, crossing disciplines and media, using different textures, and presentation methods so they can best be used and unified.

Memories, watercolor on paper by Patsy Surh O’Connell 

She uses peonies prominently in her imagery because her mother loved peonies. Her mother’s birthdate is in May when the peonies are in bloom. She says she dedicated herself to paint 100 peony paintings in honor of her mother. She also finds inspiration in birds. She says she feeds the crows in her garden and watches their behavior and social structure. She says they live up to three generations in the same community, that they have a hierarchy to teach their young and pass on wisdom and rituals. She says the older ones eat first. She likes them because they pay respect between the generations. Ducks are also featured in her work; she says they mate for life, mirroring the aspirations of many.

In addition to her art practice and teaching, Surh O’Connell is a co-founder and President of the nonprofit Asia Pacific Cultural Center, which seeks to bridge communities and generations in art, culture, education, and business. They represent 47 countries in Asia and the Pacific Islands with an aim to share cultures and identities. The story of the organization’s origin began in 1995 when Surh O’Connoll brought her parents to the US to care for them, but in May 1996 Her father passed away. She was devastated by this loss and her health suffered badly. She came to the realization that there was a better way to honor his life. She called a meeting with friends from different Asian nationalities including second and third generations. The purpose being to hold on to respective cultures and pass them on to future generations. She says younger generations are very busy, also in feeling obliged to fit in with mainstream US culture, they often lose touch with their culture of origin and in doing so lose connection and understanding with their older generations. She says after a while, they start to wonder what their roots are and where they come from. The Asia Pacific Cultural Center provides a place to gather and share cultures between generations, but also with people from other cultures; all are welcome.  

My Journey, acrylic on canvas by Patsy Surh O’Connell


Discovery of Nature is a gift to the community, please take advantage of Surh O’Connell’s insights in art and culture.

Discovery of Nature fine art show by Patsy Surh O’Connell

The Gallery at Tacoma Community College

Now until October 26



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