We visit Susan's light and airy Cornish studio to talk about finding inspiration for her glass and paper artwork.
Tell us about your recent work.
I have recently been working with glass discs and ovals, which are two-dimensional but floated just off the wall surface.
Originally, I started working more with fabrics, silks and papers, but I’ve always been drawn to translucency, transparency and layering. I just love the way that you can build up layers, like washes of colour with watercolour, but you can play with light and shadows as well.
I will go out and walk, take photographs and make drawings – really immerse myself in a place. I’ll look for particular shapes, colours, patterns or textures. I have the photographs made into transfers, and that means you can actually put fragments of images onto the glass.
I’ve also been working with the University of Sunderland and the National Glass Centre to water jet cut glass.
So it’s a combination of all that coming together: cut-outs, fragments of photography, and powdered glass enamels – I make stencils and I sieve it over different areas of the glass.
It sounds like your process is quite experimental…
I like to mix things that are slightly traditional or hands-on with things that are experimental. As things have become more digital I’ve adopted a mixture of digital processes in the work.
For me, it’s that hybrid where the two meet that produces really interesting things.
Where do you start looking for ideas?
I always like places that are near water. I’m drawn to islands, coastal boundaries; the edges of places.
I am also very interested in Neolithic and Bronze Age sites. I occasionally wander into the Iron Age or even possibly up to the Romans… Anything after that is a bit recent.
A few years ago, I went up to Orkney. I’ve always wanted to go. I curated an exhibition called Re-Making the Past and worked from Bronze Age sites in Orkney, and then in Cornwall. I liked the idea of having the two extremities of the very far north and the very far west, so that grew from there.
Often one site will take me to another site. It’s just about researching and exploring and finding places.
So it’s not just about the look of a place – it’s about its history.
It is primarily visual. But I am also interested in the history of the place, and changes that have occurred in places too. Some places are timeless; they’ve been more or less the same for two or three thousand years. Other places have completely changed.
I find that quite interesting: the impact of the weather, and the environment, and time passing.
Do you feel connected to Cornwall’s historic artists?
I wouldn’t say I’m influenced by any one particular Cornish artist; it’s more of the way Cornish artists have worked from the landscape and from particular places.
I did a piece based on the Marazion marshes, looking at paintings that were made by a Newlyn School artist about 120 years ago. I went back to exactly the same place to see how it had changed and took hundreds of photographs and made the glass installation based on that idea.
Can you tell us a little about your project at Penlee House?
I researched the Crysede textile collection, which is held at Penlee House Gallery and Museum and the Royal Cornwall Museum.
Penlee House have a display in the form of a shop window, but it’s a bit like an iceberg, with many more pieces in the archives behind the scenes.
The Crysede textile collection was originally designed by the artist Alec Walker in the 1920’s. He and his team used carved woodblocks to handprint beautiful silks and linens. The designs for the fabrics often came from drawings and paintings that he made in Cornwall, mostly around West Penwith.
One of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to them is because they’re about pattern and colour, but have recognizable elements of particular places. I wanted to take people back to some of those places.
So, through the Feast Bright Sparks project, I worked with Penlee House and students from Cornwall College. We did print workshops with all sorts of age groups, students designed bags, and families or visitors could go on a discovery trail to find out the places that Alec Walker had worked from.
It was a way of combining history and the museum collection with creativity and new things.
Is there a particular exhibition or gallery space that you love?
In Cornwall, the Byre Gallery is a lovely space because it’s very open and airy, but it’s also been made to show how work can be displayed in people’s homes. It’s a really interesting mixture of fine art and applied craft, objects and wall pieces. Elaine who runs the gallery really shows how things can actually work together, which is great for people to see.
What inspires you about where you live?
I like walking in West Penwith when I get the chance. I love the coast road between St Ives, Zennor and St Just. All the moors around St Just are really beautiful. In the summer, my favourite places are Grebe on the Helford. I love it along there.
See more of Susan’s beautiful work on her website and save the date to visit her studio during Open Studios Cornwall, 23rd-31st May 2020.
This month our designers bring a sense of place to our collection with detailed woodblock prints in earthy colours, inspired by Crysede techniques.