Saturday, 10 December 2016

Excerpts from an Interview with Rice Freeman Zachery

I'm often sent emails from students studying art and design, to answer questions regarding my practice; how did I start? Who inspired me? 
What processes do I go through when creating a sculpture? 
These are big questions, and require thoughtful answers.

Earlier in the year, I was interviewed by an American journalist for a magazine. 
Here is an abridged version of the interview.
My hope is that you will find it useful, inspiring, and hopefully it will answer some of those questions.

'Su Blackwell’s tiny tableaux have been described as Worlds of “Magical Realism,” imagined landscapes and scenes that, on the surface, seem possible but that, on closer study, are seen to be made of magic: landscapes sculpted from the pages of books and peopled by characters brought to life from the text. In 2003, back to the UK from a trip to Southeast Asia, Su began thinking about paper, books and stories. “I was browsing through the dusty shelves of a second-hand book shop in Carlisle, where I was living on graduating from college, and there was a section of classical children’s books. I came across books I had loved reading as a child but in adulthood had more or less forgotten about, stories such as Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden and fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. There was also something about the quality and smell of the books that brought back a sense of childhood to me.”

Alice: A Mad Tea Party, 2007

Growing up in Sheffield, in South Yorkshire, Su remembers being a creative child but not drawn in any particular direction. Art was not considered a career choice, her mother a nurse, her late father an engineer for British Gas, Su was the first in her family to go to college. “I kind of got into doing art as a career by accident,” she says. “I never liked doing art in school, it wasn’t very creatively taught—‘draw a table and chair,’ ‘draw some fruit’—that sort of thing. I loved English classes though, and found my English teacher really inspiring. I loved writing fictional stories, and I did think about becoming an English teacher or, in my dreams, ‘a writer.”

It wasn’t until Su stumbled upon a textiles course at college after a stint of trying her hand at various jobs and different courses that she began to feel that she was on to something.
“I was in my early twenties when I took my place on the textiles course, and there was only 4 other students. It became apparent to me that I had found something that I felt passionate and excited about, and from then on everything slowly began to fall into place. I went from being someone without any sense of direction to being very focused. I went on to study textiles and ceramics at Bradford College, and encompassed myself in my studies. While some of my friends were going out socialising, I was working hard, developing my practice. For weeks leading up to my final project I worked from 6 am to 12 midnight. I was so involved with my art, and everything I did seemed to feed into it.
I wasn't considering my future, I was just in it for the moment''
After a year working as a college technician in the textiles department at Huddersfield University, Su then went on to get her MA in textiles at the Royal College of Art in London. I was fortunate enough to receive a bursary, and I found a part-time job to get me through college. As soon as I left the Royal College in 2003, I was ready to leave London, and so I applied to residencies in remote parts of the UK, which involved working within the community, but they also gave me time to develop my personal work.”


Performance in Country Park, Scotland, 2003

She worked in primary schools in the Scottish Borders and at at a school for children with special educational needs in Carlisle for 2 years, and it was in between these residencies that she made the trip to Southeast Asia. “My journey through Thailand and Laos brought me into contact with paper art and artists. Simple paper designs are often used in spiritual ceremonies right across Asia,” she says. “We came across a Buddhist funeral on a visit to a temple, and were handed a small paper-cut flower, which we were invited to place upon the pyre as an offering, before the whole thing was spectacularly set alight. The experience was pivotal to me - it got me thinking”.
On the way back to the airport, Su stopped off in Bangkok's Khao San Road. In a second hand book shop, she picked up a copy of The Quiet American, gently used and heavily annotated in the margins. Su had no particular plan for the book, but it intrigued her enough for her to carry it home. "On returning to the UK, I began to explore the use of paper as a medium.”


The Quiet American, 2005

In Carlisle, with access to the grand bookshop filled with books from her childhood, Su began to experiment. She chose specific books to work with, and created a scene from the book cut out of only the pages of that book, using nothing more than a scalpel and glue, honing her techniques as she went along. “After three years, I had built up a body of work, what I came to term as my ‘book sculptures,’ and after exhibiting a few of these in various group shows, I was successful in applying to an exhibition in London in 2006 called ‘Origin.’” Simultaneously, one of the pieces was published in Vogue magazine. “The piece in Vogue quickly sold,” she says, “And my show at Origin was a sell-out.” Su had found her audience, just like that. “From there on, my practice began to snowball, I was offered commercial projects, such as the Christmas window display for Harvey Nichols and an advertisement for Beringer Wine.”


 Harvey Nichols Window Display, 2007

She had hired a web designer to create a website, which opened up her work to a wider and more widely-flung audience. “Within a few months of doing ‘Origin,’ I was taking commissions and starting for the first time to be able to make a living from my art. Luckily this has continued to the present day,” she says. Lucky, indeed: when Su first began sculpting books, she gave herself five years. If, at the end of that time, she wasn’t able to support herself making her art, she would have looked for another line of work. Luckily for her collectors and fans, that was never an issue.

Crabtree & Evelyn Worldwide Campaign, 2010

In addition to her own work and her commercial work for companies such as Crabtree and Evelyn, Su also creates private commissions, sometimes from favorite heirloom books provided by clients. Asked about how she feels about cutting into books, Su explains that she’s often torn. However, the books she uses are usually salvaged from used book shops. Most of the books themselves are not valuable as books, and the magic wrought in Su’s studio guarantees them a life far beyond the one they would otherwise have.
Although the pages are often old and sometimes fragile, the conservator Su consulted said that, since the book sculptures will be housed in custom-built wooden boxes, longevity shouldn’t be an issue as long as they’re protected from sunlight.
For her own part in creating paper sculptures, permanency isn’t a consideration.
Su admits to being fascinated by work that is deliberately ephemeral.
“I am in awe of artists who make amazingly intricate sculptures and then torch them, for example” she admits.

Wooden Sculpture to commemorate 'The Great Fire of London', by David Best, 2016

To read the interview in full,
Somerset Studio Jul/Aug 2016 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Workshop Images and Charleston House, Wrapped up for Winter

Here are some photos from the 'paper cutting' workshop 
I led at Charleston House in Lewes this morning.


 Participants (some of whom had never done any paper-cutting before)
 designed and created a paper-cut accordian-folding Christmas card (below).




There was also a chance to look around Charleston House, 
all wrapped up for the winter. 


All of the furniture, paintings and ceramics have been carefully covered in tissue paper and white cotton, until the house re-opens in spring
However, the house is open this weekend. as part of 'Charleston Uncovered'
To visit, go to Charleston

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Studio

For those who follow my blog, you'll know that I've relocated, and am now working from my home studio. The move and the renovations have been exhaustive, but things are starting to come together. We recently got our things out of storage, which means for the past few weeks, I've been finding homes for my belongings, of which there are many. 
I am a collector, and I find it hard to let go of things. 
Mostly I collect old books, but also dolls houses, model boats, and the odd conserving jar or glass bottle, which I'm currently filling with shells, pebbles and amazing air plants! 
Here are some photos I've taken recently... 

  

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Reminder: Workshop this Weekend at Charleston House in Lewes, East Sussex!

Spaces are still available for my workshop this Saturday 
'Design and make a 3-D paper-cut Christmas card' 

To book, please go to Christmas@Charleston

 3-d paper-cut cards using Windsor pastel papers © Su Blackwell 


Charleston House, Lewes, East Sussex
Saturday 3rd December 10am - 1pm

All materials, and tea and coffee are provided.