Beth Surdut

Tucson artist Beth Surdut has a new exhibit at the Tucson Botanical Gardens (2150 N Alvernon Way) open through the end of the month. Go see her work at a free artist's reception on Thursday, Feb. 11, from 5 to 7 p.m. Surdut, host of Arizona Spotlight's Art of Paying Attention series, will display her paintings and illustrations along with scientific and spiritual nature stories. For more info, visit www.tucsonbotanical.org.

Tell me about yourself.

I am both an artist and a writer. I do an NPR radio series here called The Art of Paying attention which ties in to what the exhibit is. I am a nature illustrator and I won the Tucson Festival of Books three years ago for a project called Listening to Ravens.

Tell me about the exhibit.

Part of the exhibit is intricately drawn ravens and stories that I have collected ... Another part of the exhibit is color saturated paintings on silk with exotic flowers and exotic lizards and poison dart frogs. And there are stories to go along with them.  What I found, years ago, was ... that when a painting resonates with someone, it is because often it brings their own story to it. But I also found that telling the stories that went along with the pieces ... drew people further in ...

Where do you get your stories?

Some of the stories are my own personal experiences and some are ones people bring me. People bring me stories that I divide into science and spirit ...

What drew you to ravens in particular?

I thought my umbilical cord was still attached to the ocean. I grew up in Rhode Island and I've lived in a lot of oceanic places. I was on the west coast of Florida and I got an email from a friend ... She said, "Have you ever been to Santa Fe?" I said, "Why would I go there? There is no ocean." ... I visited for 10 or 12 days and wherever we went, there were ravens. Some people go on a vision quest. They go up on a mountain and they starve themselves and they wait for their spirit animal to show themselves. Well, mine came courting. Mine did everything but bring me flowers and chocolates ... It was almost as if the raven crossed its wings, tapped its foot, and said, "Come on, we've got work to do."

Tell me one of the stories someone brought you.

This woman who lived on Vashon Island, which is on Puget Sound. She would go on walks and ravens are really good with facial recognition. So if they see you on your regular walks, they know who you are. She never interacted with them. They were just around. Then one day, she was walking down a pathway and there was a group of them ahead of her gathered together and they were looking at her. Of course, she stopped and tried to figure out what this behavior was. And the designated raven crapped on her head. For lack of a better word, they laughed. They chuckled. Ravens are known to love to play tricks.

What is your goal for your exhibit?

Tucson is so wonderful because the critters are right here in the city. You don't have to go anywhere to find your place in wild nature. The goal with my work is to encourage people to look around and see that you can have these adventures without going far afield, even though I do and have. I want to share my enthusiasm about our place in nature because it is really trendy to be doom and gloom about the damage that's been done to the planet ... I think that can be really overwhelming ... I look at it this way: There is joy right outside my window..