Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Creativity: an artist's journey

I see the world in a visual way. Through art and my pursuit of aesthetic contemplation I look at the world around me in a very different way to other people. As an artist, you find your own specific way of interpreting beauty. As a child I was fascinated by the world of fashion photography and poured over my collection of Vogue magazines from an early age. I spent many happy hours creating fashion images and putting them in scrapbooks – my early passion for collation and organisation. And probably one of the greatest influences was my uncle, Frederick Salter, a renowned Welsh artist, who inspired, nurtured and most importantly, spent patient hours painting with me as a child. Now I find myself inspired by the place in which I live (we have moved many times around the world), vistas of landscape and the history of artists who came before.

After a very uneventful A’level in art, which offered no interesting surprises or particular talents I opted for a career in fashion styling (motivated by my childhood passion), which led me behind the camera of many great photographers and there I was able to unleash my creativity. The procedure I adopted was after having an idea for a fashion shoot, I then went ahead and produced the pages of the magazine, working closely with the creative team. But I was always the most excited at the other end of the photographic process – editing, cropping and selection of the final prints.

When I moved to the USA with our first child, Jack, I was no longer able to work and felt I needed to fill the creative gap left by my leaving the magazine world. At a more mature age I was ready to go back to art and painting. In Wilmington, Delaware, I took up drawing classes at the art museum, followed by painting classes…….and the rest is history. I haven’t stopped painting in 15 years (I will always remember when it happened because the reminder is whatever the age Jack is!) and my work has evolved over the years.

I started the painting process with still-life. Arranging coloured bottles one in front of another I juxtaposed these bright glass vessels and began to work on personal compositional preferences. Colour moved into my work almost straight away – almost too vivid to begin with. Even the landscapes that followed echoed the bright palettes I had admired in those amazing American art museums of works by Matisse, Bonnard and Van Gogh. At the time – they were the limit of my knowledge of art history.

Another move, this time to Suffolk, in England, tamed my palette and got me interested in these wide landscapes consisting of stratas of sky and land along a flat coast. It was here that I learnt the technique of dragging the brush across the canvas and leaving dry-brush marks that revealed the colours painted underneath. Peter Burman, a local landscape artist, was my teacher and in his classes we always produced an alla prima painting within a few hours – spontaneous and fresh without too much time to dwell on perfection. I think this type of process enabled me to approach a painting without too much fear or trepidation.

After a further two children we found ourselves living in Northumberland and it is here that I enrolled on a fine art degree affiliated with Sunderland University. Having continued to paint the wonderful northern hilly landscape of Hadrian’s wall country with its wide vistas and big skies, I began to experiment with the traditional landscape composition using my newly acquired skills on the computer and butting up one landscape against another. The landscapes evolved into stratas – layers of land and sky. My canvases got bigger and the techniques I was using were achieved by using larger scrapers, trowels and spatulas. By experimenting on paper first I could see what effects could be achieved, often using acrylic first and then covering with a wash of oil paint bathed in turpentine to even out the colour tones.

By this time I was looking at Gerhard Richter, Richard Diebenkorn, Peter Lanyon, Ivon Hitchens with my tutor and mentor at Newcastle College, Tom Moore.

And it was Tom Moore who encouraged a series of paintings of city landscapes of Newcastle where I concentrated on urban redevelopment turning scaffolded buildings into art. Using masking tape and acrylic paint I carefully achieved the symmetry of the buildings on wooden panels and explored the use of dry brush techniques which has inspired me for future city scape paintings including my Ponte Vecchio and San Gimignano works in Florence.

A project entitled ‘Chance and Order’ was set for the degree course and it was then that the Plasma Series emerged. By this time my knowledge of art history had greatly increased and I was spending any free time going to contemporary local exhibitions and any time we had a holiday abroad. My points of reference enhanced my painting vocabulary. Francis Bacon was one of my inspirations for the Chance and Order series. I loved the way he sent busy, amorphic figures against smooth, evenly painted backdrops – and his use of colour, in my mind, was both original and surprising.

Working with a friend in his studio in Northumberland, I chanced upon the garage next door where they were spraying the underside of cars with a pebbly black paint. I stencilled this spray paint on a canvas and then starting experimenting with enamel paint, pouring the paint on the surface and then letting it drip from one side to the other in an almost gridlike pattern. This was the start of my process-led work and has been a genre of working for me now for many years. Eventually I managed to develop a technique to isolate the enamel paints in the centre of the canvas (after Bacon) and marbled the colours together until an amorphic shape appeared that pleased me. This physical action of manipulating the canvas to create a form that pleased me was both random and controlled.

Another move, this time to Florence in Italy, led me to fully express all the influences that have been gathering over the years and has really been the icing on the cake. How could you not be inspired by the crumbling palazzo walls, the Renaissance paintings with their rich oil colours and use of gold leaf and the countryside and climate of the Tuscan region. The strata landscapes are still there but they have evolved. More use of gold leaf in the plasmas and landscapes and a series of collaged Madonnas using Florentine wrapping paper. My most recent work, inspired by a brief visit to the Natural History Museum in New York, involves recycling and cutting up old work into pebble shapes and presenting on evenly painted boards and cemented with resin. This work also has a reference to the wonderful marbling and pietra dure of Italy. My Florence. My view. My history.

I am now able to see a pattern in my creative life where I jump from realism to abstract landscapes to photography to collage and then the whole circle starts again. It keeps me creative and I so enjoy the inter-relation between the different media. They inspire and feed of each other as if there is a parasitic feeding going on where one image emerges and evolves from another.

Susi Bellamy

See a selection of Susi's pictures in chronological order.

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