Susie, welcome to Reprehensible Digest. Tell the audience a little about yourself – your background, where you're from, what you specialize in as an artist.
Thank you for inviting me to Reprehensible Digest, Aaron. I was born in Bedford, England. The town lies about 60 miles north of London and I've lived there all my life, apart from a year in Norfolk. The family home was filled with art – my father's sculptures and my mother's paintings so their work definitely influenced me even if subliminally. Their work was abstract or semi-abstract so I guess it's not surprising that mine is too.
How long have you been an artist and when did you realize this was your calling?
Hmm, I suppose I've been making art one way or another on and off since childhood. But it was only about eight years ago that I started painting with any intent, as it were. I'd never thought of myself as an artist, per se, it was just something that I did for its own sake and for myself. However, I've now embraced it and come to realise how important it is for me to create and painting is how I choose to express that creativity.
What mediums to you prefer working with and how would you describe your style? Also, do you prepare your own canvas? What are your favorite supply brands?
I prefer working with acrylics for their quick-drying capacity as many of my paintings consist of several layers and I don't have the space to leave half-finished work aside while it dries, nor the patience. I sometimes paint oils over acrylics. I would say my work is abstract or semi-abstract, occasionally expressive. I'm not sure it fits into any specific genre or style and I often go off on tangents. Due mainly to space restrictions, I don't prepare my own canvases, so I buy them ready-made, most usually Winsor & Newton, sometimes Daler Rowney. I've recently discovered Loxley canvases which are great. Either way, I give the canvas a couple of coats of gesso before I start painting. I use several brands of paint: Winsor & Newton professional acrylics, Lukas Cryl Studio, Liquitex soft body acrylics, Reeves and a couple others. I also use a number of mediums with the paints depending on what I'm trying to achieve.
Did you study art in school? If so, tell us where you studied and some early creative experiences that helped shape you into the talented artist you have become today.
I had only basic lessons at school, like colour-mixing, vanishing points, perspective, etc. Art wasn't considered academic at grammar school. I've never had any formal art training beyond school, and never been to art college or any further education in art. When I was young, it never really crossed my mind that I should, neither was it ever an option or a suggestion. Opportunities to do so back then (in the 1970s) were few and far between. I've never been taught what I can't or shouldn't do, so I've always been left to my own devices, happily experimenting and finding my own way. Although I now recognize that college can be a means of opening doors.
As a professional artist, what are some of the greatest challenges you face?
Gaining recognition without any real professional backing or advice is a huge challenge. I'm still working out how to get the attention of commercial galleries. Perhaps my art isn't considered "commercial" enough, but it would be nice to catch a break, even though that could risk turning art into some sort of production line. It's a conundrum and I wish I had the answer.
Many artists struggle with promotional objectives and raising awareness of their brand. How do you navigate the art landscape both on and off social media?
Promoting my art is an on-going thing. I've come to think that the art business is unlike most other businesses. For most people, buying art is not a necessity but a luxury, and it's a very crowded market. I wish I had a magic wand, haha! I do rely heavily on social media, LinkedIn in particular which has brought me quite a few loyal and incredibly supportive friends. I'm so grateful for every single connection. It has also resulted in several sales and even a couple of collectors. Pushing awareness beyond social media, without paying hundreds of pounds or dollars to take part in an art fair or group exhibition (which I'm averse to doing) is very difficult. I'm sure there are many artists in a similar situation. I've wracked my brain over this for ages, but haven't found a solution. I hope one day to be in a position where I find another way to promote, not just my own art, but that of others too – where all expenses could be shared, no commission charged and where we could all display and, hopefully, sell a few paintings.
I notice an angular impression leaning toward science and engineering in many of your works. Is this a conscious decision or simply the brilliance of personal expression?
It's true that many of my paintings have an angular theme. I think it's a subconscious thing. My first City Lights came about whilst experimenting with blocks of color. I can't say they're informed by science or engineering, but who knows what's lurking in my subconscious! It sounds weird, but it's only when I've finished a painting that its inspiration makes itself known to me. Unless, of course, it's one that I've painted to extend a series. It's as though something deep-rooted comes out. I don't sketch anything in advance and often have only the vaguest idea where the painting will end up, but it would appear that buildings play a big part in my inspiration. I painted a series called Breakthrough in which all the shard-like shapes sit at angles to one another and which started out as an experiment for a background in my City Lights paintings. More recently, I've produced a series which aims to convey what I think of as the "skeletons" of buildings during construction. We all tend to take buildings for granted, but it just goes to show how they can affect us, even though we may not be aware of it.
Do you find that ideas and subject matter come easy, or do you spend considerable time pondering your next move? Provide some insight into your decision-making process.
I'm interested in color and form, their juxtaposition. I don't spend a lot of time pre-planning, but if I've painted something that I think works, and the idea can run for a while, a new series will develop. Ideas tend to grow as I'm painting and I've found that trying to force something just doesn't work for me. I like to experiment with process and application of color and have made my way through several phases, including finger painting and fluid painting. It's difficult to explain my decision-making process. I'm not always aware of making decisions beyond which color, brush or other tool I need to use.
When I'm really getting into a painting, I go into some sort of zone which takes over. However, I know that if I'm struggling, or if something's not right, I walk away for a while to let things brew on what I call my "back burner" before returning and getting on with it. Also, I've come to recognize that when I'm really not getting anywhere and the painting just isn't working, it's usually because something new is trying to make itself known. It will keep niggling at me until I pay attention. Often that heralds a new series or one of my occasional "random" paintings. I don't struggle for ideas, generally speaking, though not all are likely to see the light of day; some just sort of fall away or no longer seem relevant.
Past or present, name three artists who have inspired you. Explain the relevance of their work and what their paintings mean to you as an artist.
I would have to say that my father was and is an inspiration. I spent many happy hours with him in his workshop – he never called it a "studio" – watching him as he made his wooden sculptures, transforming tree trunks into what he called Abstract Realism sculptures. He exhibited them in several galleries in London and elsewhere. I love Wassily Kandinsky's paintings. They're timeless and it's hard to believe they were painted so long ago. He was a pioneer of Abstract Art and considered to be a revolutionary. I would have loved to have seen him working; he broke new ground and abstract artists have much to thank him for. Georgia O'Keeffe holds a special place for me. She had a different way of seeing things and worked in several styles. I think she would have been very interesting to talk to. If it hadn't been for an ex-colleague asking me to reproduce one of O'Keeffe's paintings – I think it was Jack-in-the-Pulpit – there's a good chance I wouldn't have started painting again.
How competitive is the professional artist landscape in England?
I imagine it's as competitive here in England as it is anywhere else. There are so many artists of one sort or another, all vying for recognition, which makes it hard to rise through thousands of offerings available to the public and the galleries. I think locale makes a difference. Being close enough to galleries to visit regularly and become known and have conversations must help, but there's no certainty of representation or even interest. Yes, it's a competition of sorts, but I don't think that means that artists shouldn't help one another. We're all in it together and I'm genuinely delighted to hear of the achievements and successes of other artists.
You were recently accepted into the Guild Society of Artists. What does this lovely accomplishment mean to you as an artist?
I was very surprised to be invited to join the Guild Society of Artists. I actually questioned it as I thought my art wouldn't fit, but the president of the guild told me he'd been watching my progress for some time. He thought it was time the Guild had some abstract art and that he thought mine was wonderful – what a great endorsement! Bearing in mind my lack of formal art education, I don't think I understood how important the opportunity was, but it was drummed into me by an artist friend of mine. I haven't yet attended any meetings, but hope to exhibit with them next year.
Your Solace, Interlude and Intermission series… I find them to be quite futuristic and symbolic of our tendencies toward overpopulation. What are your feelings on this subject and does this accurately describe your paintings?
It occurred to me that as we walk around towns and cities, we're bombarded with noise from every direction; traffic, sirens, people talking loudly to one another or into their phones, building sites – you get the picture. The paintings that you refer to are my response to this bombardment. I started to think of how important silence (or at least, quietness) is to our well-being, some peace to let our thoughts come through without being interrupted or having our nerves jangled by a cacophony of sounds. The white spaces in the paintings represent that peaceful place, and the lines and shapes within them are intended to suggest how our personal havens can suffer from the intrusion of noise in some shape or form, as though it's encroaching further and further into our lives. It does bother me that with the population growing as it is, noise pollution is only going to increase. Your summation is pretty accurate!
Non-art related question. What makes Susie Hall tick? What are some things that may unduly influence your work? Politics, history, environment… what comes to mind?
Where do I start? I'm interested in many things, including those that you mention. We've spoken before about my concerns about the proliferation of buildings and the ever-expanding towns and cities and how those concerns translated into my City Lights series. The Earth is a living thing and it worries me that if we keep covering its surface in concrete, we'll suffocate it and one day it will take its revenge. I'm also concerned about the huge amount of surveillance that's going on – cameras everywhere, Google searches monitored, phones allowing our every move to be tracked… I know much of it is sold to us as "safety" but I wonder. That all sounds very gloomy, but I assure you I'm not a gloomy sort of person, far from it, though I do think about things a lot.
You have many beloved fans and admirers, and you have always been courteous and professional when discussing your work. What brings you the most satisfaction in your interactions with casual observers or fans?
I'm always interested in learning what others see in my paintings, how they make them feel – if anything. It's wonderful when my friends and connections here take the time to comment on my posts and share their thoughts about my work. I think it's most important to thank them and reply and it would be most discourteous not to. Sometimes conversations develop from those initial comments, which is great and very satisfying. Some of those conversations have even led to me having collectors of my art. I'm very grateful and humbled at the terrific support and loyalty that is given to me. It really means more than I can say.
Artists are sensitive beings. How do you handle rejection, criticism or ignorance when these things rear their head? How do you approach people who misinterpret your work?
Rejection no longer bothers me a great deal. I know my art isn't going to appeal to everyone (whose does?) – and that's just how it is. What I don't like is when someone says something deliberately hurtful; why say anything at all? I've encountered that a few times in the past, and may well again. I remember someone on LinkedIn (not even a connection) saying something vile about one of my paintings years ago. It upset me a great deal. How I was I supposed to respond? Anyway, they deleted their comment when a friend stepped in on my behalf.
Nowadays, when someone says something a bit off or inappropriate, I simply thank them for their comment and move on. When I was preparing to exhibit in London for the first time and brought my paintings to the gallery (it was a group exhibition, paid for and before I'd learned my lesson), the curator refused to show one of them, despite it having been used in all the promotional stuff, saying it was a "horrible" painting. I was taken aback, to say the least, and luckily I had a spare with me to replace the "horrible" one. I can smile about it now, but at the time it seemed unkind. I don't think it's a horrible painting, but I wasn't about to argue with her.
Your works have been featured in galleries, on furniture fabrics, and soon to be featured on decorative watch pieces. What has been your biggest professional achievement and how much joy enjoy these "breakthrough" experiences?
I'm not sure how to answer this as every step forward brings joy and excitement. However, if pushed, I'd have to mention that being invited to join the Guild Society of Artists was quite special. It took a while for the significance of that to sink in. Also, as I've often thought that much of my work would be suitable for use in textile design, I was very happy when someone else thought the same. And also, of course, the recent collaboration regarding the exclusive watches. I consider each of those events a breakthrough of sorts and shows that I must be doing something right!
If you could improve or change anything about the art industry, what would you suggest for improvements and where would you start?
It's long been an ambition of mine to find a way for artists to exhibit their work without being expected to pay huge amounts of money for the "privilege". I get many invitations to show at art fairs all over the world, but even a space large enough to show just a couple of paintings would mean I'd be lucky to break even. Then there's the shipping and, possibly, flights and accommodation. In addition, the organizers usually charge quite a high commission, inflating the price of the paintings considerably. An art promoter once told me that even if I sold at one such fair, I'd be lucky if I made anything out of it after all my expenses had been covered.
This was borne out when a friend of mine decided to show some of her work at a prestigious art fair a few years ago. It ended up costing her several thousands of pounds and not a single sale resulted. Apparently more than 70 galleries took part (artists often have to show via galleries or curators that "rent" the space and pass on the costs – with a profit added – to the artists), showing a total of around 4,000 paintings, of which only a handful were sold. It seems to me that artists are not getting a fair deal. It would also be good if more galleries were willing to take a chance and support emerging artists, but they seem reluctant to take a chance.
This subject tends to be sticky for some, but as a female artist, do you ever experience discrimination, inequality, or any sort of unfair disadvantage?
Hmmm... I like to think that it's becoming less difficult for female artists to make their mark – no pun intended. However, certainly in my case, it seems difficult for women of a certain age, shall we say, to catch a break. Many of us have spent a long time raising a family and/or going out to work and have returned to our art somewhat belatedly without any professional support or guidance. It can be a lonely road to travel. I haven't experienced any discrimination as far as I'm aware and wouldn't expect to. It really shouldn't matter who's made the painting – it should be all about the art itself. But it does seem that female artists generally lag behind men in the art world and I read recently that they're much more inclined to give up. Maybe if they had more opportunities and support that wouldn't happen.
As a creative being, do you believe artists have a deeper emotional core, a place we can visit that most people do not understand? If so, do you struggle with this notion?
I think we do have a tendency to feel things very deeply and to be quite sensitive, aware of our surroundings and the feelings or moods of others, and see things differently. Perhaps we think more laterally and imaginatively? We can be quite intense and passionate. Although I'm aware of all this, I don't struggle with it and just accept that that's how I am. I'm lucky in that those closest and dearest to me also accept it. They know that I have a vivid imagination and I don't feel shy about expressing it. It hasn't always been the case: I was about 15 and at school when it dawned on me that I didn't "fit" as such. It wasn't until relatively recently, having started painting again and finding my place that those feelings have disappeared.
Susie, you have indicated a close relationship with your father. How much of a role have your parents played in shaping your development as a fine artist?
My Father absolutely gets my art and is incredibly supportive and encouraging. As I mentioned, he used to be a sculptor and is also brilliant at drawing, though not so hot on painting, strangely enough. I guess I always have in the back of my mind that I'm trying to get somewhere with my art for his sake as much as my own. He stopped sculpting very abruptly, despite having had some success with exhibitions and international sales, and I've never been able to find out why. He doesn't talk about it.
I suspect it was something to do with having a full-time job to keep his family, which meant working at his sculpting in the evenings and sometimes until the early hours. Anyway, those thoughts spur me on to pick up the baton and take it as far as I can. For my Dad. Both my parents were very understanding and never complained when I decided, at about the age of 13, to paint an entire bedroom wall with poster paints in an abstract style. Neither did they utter a word when I'd been painting in the dining room and flicked paint up the wall. They were very fore-bearing and I was very fortunate. My Mother painted for a while but stopped many years ago. She too takes an interest in what I'm doing and is very supportive of my art.
You are perhaps the most professional and down-to-earth artist I know directly. What advice would you give to aspiring artists struggling to find their creative identity?
What a wonderful compliment! Thank you Aaron. I would advise any aspiring artist that the only way they'll find their creative identity is to keep producing art. It won't happen without practicing and although you might make loads of very different paintings, for example, if you keep going you're likely to find a common theme, or thread that unifies them. Many artists have worked their way through lots of different styles before alighting on the one that they ultimately became known for. You have to live and breathe art, chase ideas, experiment, don't make excuses for not working. Treat it like a full-time job, your main job if you like, even if it isn't. Always be professional in your approach to your art and with any and all interested parties. Use the best materials you can afford and don't listen to naysayers or people who think your art is "a little hobby". Believe in yourself come what may and never give up.
Open forum here... Any additional skills, hobbies, or interests you'd like to share with the audience – fascinating things about the artist Susie Hall?
Okay, here goes: I once thought I'd be a writer and still think I might get round to it one day. I love reading, all sorts of things, mainly novels – particularly psychological thrillers, mysteries and magical realism. Maps intrigue me... I'm pretty hopeless at geography so maps often bring surprises. I once set up and ran a paint-your-own pottery studio in the town for five years. I've sung backing vocals for my husband at a couple of his gigs and played drums in his studio during an impromptu jam session.
I love music, especially from the 70s and 80s, though not electronic music. And of course I love my husband's music. I'm quite challenged by technology as I don't know how it works and that frustrates me. I enjoy watching dramas on TV and anything in the Nordic Noir genre. My family and I were once locked out of our holiday villa in the foothills of southern Spain. I managed to remember enough French to explain our predicament to an elderly Spaniard, who didn't speak English but did speak French. He found something in the nearby hut that he'd been working in to solve the problem. I feed the birds every day. They like their breakfast as close to 7 a.m. as possible and sometimes come back for more in the afternoon. Oh, and we have an imaginary cat – he's a silver tabby and is called Kandinsky!