Local artist, Sue Blandord currently has her latest work on show in Romeo Jones – here’s what the artist had to say about her paintings in conversation with Patrick Belton.
PB: You say that you always carry a camera – capturing the world around you is some thing you clearly always do. How long have you been doing this? As a child what did you draw, how old were you when you had your first camera? Were you encouraged to do this or was this of your own volition?
SB: Drawing was a central part of my life from a young age as my second language and increasingly for escapism and outlet. My Father is a photographer and my first and biggest photographic influence consciously and unconsciously. It is because of him that I favour wide angle shots with foreground, mid range and distant interest in a picture. Its a luxury, despite a poor working class background, that I have the wealth of photographic records of my childhood and am able to access my Parents past through photographs which positively inform my present. My Dad gave me a Cannon film camera when I was 15 and I now keep a digital Sony compact in my bag at all times.
I did the usual and resisted my parents’ ways when I was young but am glad I’ve become them in part, loving to walk for miles in the country and city taking pictures as I go as a way to capture and express my perceptions and not have to hold it all in which would be too much. Then having a chance to translate and communicate them later in paintings.
PB: A lot of your work features objects such as boats, ladders, green houses chairs etc – what is it about these items that interest you?
SB: The objects that catch my eye and become obsessions basically echo / symbolise internal states and feelings. I am drawn to them on a purely instinctive level and only realise what I’m up to later. This can happen repeatedly such as in the case of chairs which I am involved with at a time of endings of either relationships or as in my last pieces; the end of my 17 years at Stockwell Studios and love affair with the building and garden which Lambeth council sold recently. The chair seems almost human, designed to carry us, give us ease. It seats only one. An empty chair speaks of a presence departed.
Ladders, as well a being great visual devises and very graphically interesting, speak of transition and passage to a place not easily accessed. Hence one of my last paintings about the last days of the studios called “A Good Way Out?” features an old leaf covered door lying on the ground and a delicate ladder leading out of the back of the picture, its feet glowing and the top a little shadowed as it travels into the unknown out of view,,,
Boats are also objects of transition and hopefully safe passage, somewhere to weather and carry you through the storm. For some time I have included miniature house motifs; it used to be dark tarred impenetrable fisherman’s huts. Now it is the glasshouse; beacons of light and the potential of growth that I best like to capture at dawn or dusk when most aglow and mysterious. I like to think this transition reflects happier times and a growing optimism in me.
PB: I’ve just done a little search to find out more about Butoh. How did you get involved with the movement? Do I recognise it in pieces such as “Still Water” where life and being is suspended by the water?
SB: One of my inspirations is Butoh the contemporary Japanese dance form influenced by German expressionism when it was formed in the 60’s as a reaction to the constrictions of traditional Japanese theatre. I see Butoh as a relative of sculptural installation / visual art. It’s often dark, sometimes fetish like theatrical expressiveness attempts to embody internal states and personal narratives, as I understand it. I first encountered it in Celia Little’s class on a Norfolk Field, an ideal place to experience it – in nature. In her class accompanied by abstract flute and percussion she helped me to access parts of myself I had not been to unaided, in that I felt I physically became my internal narratives. I became my own sculptures
I rarely get a chance to practice it but see performances as often as I can. My first encounter with Marie Gabrielle Rotie, a London based Butoh performer who became a friend, took my breath away. At the time I was repeatedly drawing delicate spot lit chairs with a crow on the seat and a twig nest beneath. At her first performance I saw a chair lowered into a spotlight, she came on as a crow woman with black pockets full of white feathers and put a nest of twigs under the chair before perching on the seat. More recently dreaming of veils again, an old visual obsession of mine; Marie floated through white candle lit doors in a huge white veil…
For me, Butoh is a meditation on the intense, encompassing joy and pain and I think my painting serves the same purpose. I hope it is calming but can also be a palatable view of unease in the face of coming to terms with the necessarily balancing shadow side and aspirational, if difficult growth.
PB: Being contained safely and warmly, I have previously commented on – does this concept extend to “In your harbour”, where the smaller vessel appears to be protected by the larger? How do you feel about protection – handing over control vs. taking control? How does this tie in with your interest in Butoh?
SB: This is a fascinating and perceptive question to me as I am conscious of the levels of control in my life and in my practice. I feel the need to be in control of myself in order to take responsibility for myself, my feelings and my actions but I long for safe places to lose control, to not have to hold everything inside, to take a break; in music, dance, in emotional connections with people. In painting, to find the golden line between control and allowing the instinctive and unconscious to come through is the alchemic Holy Grail.
Equally I feel I have to look after myself but it would be nice to be looked after sometimes (she says wistfully…) the small boat in the image “in your Harbour’ is definitely being sheltered by the larger boat and in my mind taking temporary protection. The same boats feature in ‘Mirror Boat’ but from a different angle and a different perspective. The smaller boat has a hole in the hull and is therefore full of water. This obviously is a problem and yet it allows the mirrored surface to reflect, ‘see’ and bring down the light of the sky, to my mind finding the silver lining.
PB: You seem to work predominantly with acrylic on wooden boards – why this choice of media?
SB: Although as a painter I am working with light and illusion, I am very grounded in the physical world. My primary response to it is touch once seen. I trained originally as a sculptor and working on wood gives me the physical resistance I need in sensation when applying paint to its surface and the finished battened piece has the physicality as an object I need.
PB: As a professional artist, what are your key goals for the future? What will be your legacy?
SB: My ambition as an artist is the same as my ambition as a person; to try and fulfill myself and live as inspired and integrated a life as possible giving outlet and expression to my perceptions and nature.
PB: From meeting you and seeing your work, I feel you have a strong emotional connection with what you create and share with us. When you sell your work how do you hope to make their new owners feel?
SB: My work comes from a very personal place. To my mind, although I often feel far from quiet or meditative, it is my meditation and my way of navigating being human. It’s an attempt to find a personal harmony in what can start as the inharmonious. Sometimes it takes a while to want to part with a piece and I need to sit with it and see what it was I was meditating on.
When some one responds to my work it is a privilege and pleasure when some one can relate to what I am communicating. I hope my work brings a soothing calm but in part so that the more difficult can be explored and come to peace with in a stimulating way.