Five Minutes with Susie Hall
Susie Hall reflects on her struggles with galleries, perseverance, and light-bulb moments.
Firstly, what inspires you to create art?
A lot of my inspiration comes from the world around me, my observations, feelings about it, thoughts etc. These often combine and translate into abstract works of, loosely-speaking, cityscapes – a theme I keep being drawn to, no pun intended.
I’ve always loved colour and so it’s often the case that this drives my work. I enjoy blending colours or laying them on the canvas in the juxtaposition of one another brings inspiration too.
What is your creative process like?
I love the possibilities that a blank canvas offers and usually, I select the colours I want to use first. Sometimes I have to change those choices as the painting progresses; I’ve learned to ‘listen’ to the developing painting, rather than insisting on having my own way. I know that sounds slightly strange, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I rarely have a fixed or absolute idea about what the finished painting will look like, but just start laying the paint down and let one shape and colour inform the next, sometimes over-painting and adjusting as I go. I also like experimenting, so it’s likely that ideas will occur during the painting process – those ‘light-bulb’ moments. This has resulted in several very different series’ and an eclectic body of work. I used to worry about this, but now accept that if I’m not prepared to follow ideas there’s a good chance that my art won’t develop and will become stale. I don’t sketch anything first: I’ve tried it a couple of times but found that it ‘kills’ ideas and doesn’t allow for spontaneity. However, when I’m happy with the finished work, I’ll paint similar pieces to create a series and continue with that until I sense a change coming. It’s quite usual for me to take the painting into the house and live with it for a few days, just to see if anything needs adjusting, before finally signing it off and painting the edges of the canvas.
What has been your most memorable art sale?
I hope you’re sitting comfortably, as this is a fairly long story. At their request, I’d sent two paintings (City Lights 6, which had reached the semi-finals of a Saatchi Showdown competition not long before, and City Nights 1) to a gallery in Chicago. I’d done an online search of the gallery and it all seemed fine and dandy, so I packaged the paintings and sent them on their way. That was at the beginning of 2014. The gallery promoted them on their various social media platforms, so I remained hopeful. However, by the middle of 2018, I started to become a bit concerned as I hadn’t heard anything directly from the gallery so I emailed them. Interestingly, it took a long while, and several more emails, before I heard anything back. I contacted a couple of other artists who I knew had also sent work to the gallery and found that they were also having problems. Eventually, at the start of 2019, I received payment for City Lights 6 which, I was told, had been bought by the gallery owner, but the enquiries about City Nights 1 went unanswered. I was really worried and continued emailing the gallery. After several weeks, they replied, saying that the gallery owner was considering buying City Nights 1. He sent a cheque, made out to the wrong name. A second cheque was promised but never arrived. Not knowing who to turn to, I wrote an email to a lovely man in Tennessee asking for his advice. He had bought a couple of my paintings and is a semi-retired attorney. He answered immediately, offered to represent me pro bono, and he immediately set about pursuing either the return of the painting to me, or payment for it. The gallery owner still resisted any communication for a few weeks, but once the attorney had arranged a court date and put counsel on standby, and giving a deadline of 30th July, the gallery owner finally took notice. The Court Hearing was set to begin on 1st August – my painting arrived the day before. The attorney then said he wanted to buy it, so back it went across the pond! That has to be my most memorable art sale. Oh, and I understand that the gallery is now closed permanently.
How has your arts business/career changed over the past 6 months?
I didn’t paint anything for the first few months of the year, and generally ‘retreated’, following the loss of my Father in January this year. I felt too numb to paint or really engage with anything. Then along came the Covid situation which hasn’t helped my mood, though I’m sure I’m not alone in that. However, I have now got myself back into the studio and completed seven new paintings. Unsurprisingly, I found my work has gone in a slightly different direction after the break and can feel that more differences are waiting to come out. Perhaps this is a response to current ‘circumstances’… However, on a positive note, I recently exhibited in a gallery in Stony Stratford, near Milton Keynes, and am collaborating with two other abstract artists (and friends) and planning a joint exhibition to be held next year: we’re hopeful that restrictions will be lifted by next Summer. So things are still being planned and paintings still being created.
What piece of advice would you give an artist starting their career?
I would say that anyone starting out must be prepared for the long-haul. They must decide to give everything to their art, keep practising and developing their work and devote as much time to it as they possibly can. This might mean cutting back on time out with friends or family but they should understand and support you.There are no fast routes for most. It’s essential to be professional in any conversations whether in person or on-line and in attitude, too. Be engaging. Be patient. I would add that they should use the best materials that they can afford: you don’t need to buy everything at once, just what’s needed for a particular project. Accept that there will be times when things go well, times when things go less well, and times when nothing much happens at all or that you might hit a creative ‘block’. It happens to us all. Don’t try to force it, your inspiration will eventually return. Above all, never give up.
‘Above all, never give up’
What is the most rewarding part of being an Artist?
There are many rewards of being an artist. Making art is, I think, a reward in itself. Just bringing something into the world that wasn’t there before is a reward. Finding other artists and forging genuine friendships is wonderful – these are the people who will understand you, support and encourage you and, if they’re more experienced than you, can offer advice. I’ve found that to be incredibly rewarding. Just having conversations with other artists and professionals in the art business can be very energising and can give a tremendous boost if you’re ‘flagging’. Of course, the ultimate reward is when someone loves my art enough to want to own it and live with it every day. I see that as the icing on the cake.