Skulls with an Edge
Rock 'n' roll meets rustic with Suzanna Stone Bailey's art
"Persephone" Mixed Media [Photo: Ben Hanawalt Photography]
Culture shock. That’s how Louisiana native Suzanna Stone Bailey describes her first impression of Red Lodge, Montana. After moving from Dallas, Texas, where she worked as an interior designer, the southerner was admittedly a little apprehensive of her new Rocky Mountain backdrop.
“I was homesick for a while,” Bailey says, “but then I started to really connect with Montana, exploring with my husband and daughter.” In time, Bailey would not only fall in love with the authenticity of the people and the state’s awe-inspiring beauty—but she would also contribute to those elements herself, as an artist.
Settled into her new home, Bailey decided to revisit oil painting, something she’d dabbled in when studying interior design and architecture at Louisiana Tech University.
“I had my first art show at a coffee shop in Red Lodge,” Bailey reminisces. “A friend of mine came to me with a bleached bison skull and wanted to know if I’d paint it for her.” They sat down, came up with a design together—and a niche was born. Bailey’s been beautifying skulls ever since.
Suzanna Stone Bailey [Photo: Ben Hanawalt Photography]
She orders her skull “canvases” from Porcupines Unlimited, a business based in Roundup, Montana. Then she gets to work. Some are painted with far-out patterns, while others shine with metallic accents. Faux flowers and succulents aren’t beyond Bailey’s scope of adventurous materials.
"Cabrakan" Acrylic paint [Photo: Ali Pei Photography]
Part Western, part rock ‘n’ roll, Bailey’s masterpieces—each adorned with her signature burnished-brass pistols—are the epitome of “rustic chic” and, pardon our French, stylishly badass. Each piece is bold and edgy in its own unique way, and every skull has a name.
"Good Shines Through" Mixed media [Photo: Ben Hanawalt Photography]
A year ago, she and her family moved to Bozeman, and Bailey’s art is now on display at lifestyle boutique Urbaine Home, as well as Abby Hetherington Interiors’ showroom The Architect’s Wife. Her work will also soon be featured at Western Art Forum in Big Sky.
Mountain Living caught up with Bailey to talk about her funky take on the traditional mountain lodge staple and what makes her tick.
"Delilah" Mixed Media [Photo: Ben Hanawalt Photography]
Why bison skulls?
They’re so much more dynamic than 2D artwork. You can create some beautiful things on canvas, but the different textures of the bone are so fascinating to work with. For example, a geometric pattern painted onto a skull changes from every vantage point—straight lines start to look curved. It’s an interesting challenge.
The bison is also the spirit animal of the West. People have an emotional draw to the bison and what it represents to this area and for America. And I love the drama of a bison skull—the horns, the eye sockets, the heaviness—it’s already a piece of art. I’m just taking it to the next level.
"Go West, Young Man" Mixed Media [Photo: Ben Hanawalt Photography]
What style of interior design does your art best complement?
The fact that I’m painting on skulls puts it into the Western category of art, although my general style isn’t super Western, classic, or traditional—it tends to be more contemporary. If you’re familiar with Urbaine Home at all, it’s a great fit with their style: rustic-chic, Western-relevant. It’s definitely got an edge.
"Run This Town" Acrylic Paint [Photo: Ali Pei Photography]
What mediums and design concepts do you love to use?
I love juxtaposition, like the skull with the succulents; there’s a life-and-death aspect to it. I also love funky patterns, unexpected colors, and metallics. There are a lot of nooks and crannies inside the skulls, so I like to get in there with a bright accent color like a hot pink or gold—that way the color just peeks through.
"Dance until we Drop!" Acrylic and Oil paint (mixed media) inspired by a 1930's dress [Photo: Ali Pei Photography]
What’s your inspiration, and what are you hoping to convey through your art?
I’m really moved by fashion and interior design. I love a geometric pattern that’s tricky on the eyes. You won’t look at one of my pieces and see a landscape on it—or if you do, it’ll be very surreal. I want to make you feel like you’re in a dream, almost. Speaking of surrealism, Salvador Dali is also an inspiration. And Georgia O’Keefe—I love her use of color and boldness.
"Pastry Glaze" Acrylic paint with silk flowers [Photo: Ali Pei Photography]
My philosophy is that I can’t create artwork to try and please everybody; that will never happen. I want to draw in the people who would naturally love what I’m creating. So that causes me to stay authentic, to say, “Why hold back? Let’s go for it.”
Bailey's signature pistols waiting to be adhered to her art pieces [Photo: Ben Hanawalt Photography]
Tell us about your pistol trademark.
It goes back to my love of funky Western things, and I’m obsessed with burnished brass and gold. I had a pair of earrings where a brass pistol hung down on one side, and I thought that would be a cool addition to signing my name on the skulls, to incorporation something else that felt tough yet feminine. Sometimes the pistol is in plain view; other times you have to search for it.
"Beastie Boy" Acrylic paint [Photo: Ben Hanawalt Photography]
Do you have a favorite skull?
That's a difficult question! I'll narrow it down to two. Of the ones I’ve adhered things to, the skull with the succulents would be my favorite—and it’s a fan favorite, too. Of the ones that I’ve painted, I really like “Beastie Boy,” with the pattern that looks like faux crocodile hide.
Learn more about Suzanna Stone Bailey’s art at suzannastonebailey.com