‘The Green Fuse’ – part of the Living Landscape Project

HopBarn posterOver the summer I have been creating a living sculpture, ‘The Green Fuse’, as part of the Living Landscape artists trail at the HopBarn in Nottinghamshire. This project grew out of a small gathering of artists and makers invited by Angie Atmadjaja to the HopBarn early in 2020. Over that summer when lockdown was temporarily eased, we each visited the proposed trail and selected a site or sites and developed a response to the surrounding countryside that would suit our ways of working.

My chosen location was a spinney of mostly ash saplings and this provided me with a framework, together with much of the material I would need, and my initial inspiration. My intention was to build a site-specific piece of landscape work that would convey something about the immediate surroundings whilst also responding to the environment in a broader context.

Susan Isaac - Working on The Green FuseI wanted to convey something of the delicacy of the natural world together with its potential strength. The form of this installation, which I’ve come to think of as a narrative triptych, evolved organically over the time it was being built.

The first section suggests the ‘Green Fuse’ of Dylan Thomas. Made from young flexible green whips of the vigorous willow trees growing along Carr Dyke; it was also intended to suggest the vascular tissues of a tree, through which sustenance is conveyed.

Susan Isaac - Green Fuse section 1

But this vascular system also made me think of the fibres along which the Internet connects the world. These tightly strung bundles snaking through the saplings begin to split apart into thicker woody branches as they reach the middle section.

Susan Isaac - Green Fuse section 1

The central section is a more complex ‘flowering’ stage. The shapes I was ‘drawing’ were initially inspired by the lay of the landscape beyond, with its runs of fields and hedge boundaries. I used thin ash branches that littered the floor below the young trees.

Susan Isaac - The Green Fuse - central section

These had become my supporting uprights through which increasingly fanciful organic shapes were woven. The ash branches had a particularly pronounced curve, which often resulted in an almond shape. Fringed with sticks I imagined the largest to represent a micro-organism or maybe an eye through which to view the landscape, depending on the scale.

Susan Isaac - The Green Fuse - constructing central piece

I’d wanted to introduce colour to this section and diverted from my on-site materials by using cotton muslin coloured with natural organic dyes made from onion skins, tea and turmeric, which gave the variety of ochres and yellows I saw on the land.

Susan Isaac - The Green Fuse - central section

Sunlight, at times, glows through the muslin with great intensity. The effect is almost that of an ecclesiastical stained-glass window. I allowed the coloured membranes to rise to an apex, further suggesting a church-like atmosphere.

Susan Isaac - Green Fuse end sectionThe third section is about the entropic nature of life – its cyclical dissolution and decay. In contrast to the fragile pictorial formations of the central section, the third part of the installation has a much darker, weightier, more threatening feel.

It could be read as a raft of roots growing through the trees, but I reversed the scale of branches and logs, flowing away from the centre and towards the viewer to imply a great wave of energy released into a cataclysm flooding the woodland.

This section highlights the latent power of the natural world – something that we ignore at our peril.

The Green Fuse‘ is part of the ‘Living Landscape’ Arts Trail, curated by Angie Atmadjaja and Rebecca Blackwood at The HopBarn in Nottinghamshire, open to visitors from 1 Sept to 28 Nov 2021.

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Reviewing my work from 2020

Two months into 2021 has given me a little space to think about and review my work from last year, so … 2020 started well enough, with two of my paintings having been accepted to be in the Open 30 exhibition at the New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester (which ran from 14 Dec 2019 to 24 Jan 2020). This was followed by two further pieces making it into the Royal Cambrian Academy open exhibition from 11 Jan to 8 Feb.Visiting Conwy to be part of the RCA exhibition opening on 11 Jan proved to be one of the last physical events I was able to take part in.

 

My daughters drawing in the gardenOn 23 March, Lockdown  turned everything outside in, and with pipelined projects looking increasingly unlikely I took solace, like many others, in nature and my own back garden, which fortunately included gently aging outbuildings and an orchard. In addition, our home was repopulated by our daughters who for one reason or another, had come home to (from youngest to oldest) … work / study / give birth! – making excellent models when required. Not only that but aided by their various expertise I was able to create some film of myself and my work in progress.

Such that by late May I had plenty of imagery and footage to include in a virtual Open Studios Notts trail. I’ve been involved in this opening up of artists studios since its inception in 2012 and really enjoy taking part and meeting people. Whilst saddened at not being able to do a physical event, it was a really interesting experience to create the virtual event, which included this short animated trail guide created for us by Beth Adams.

 

When lockdown eased over the summer, I was able to take part in some socially distanced live events. The first of these was a judged painting competition – ‘Paint Out Norfolk‘ from 16-23 July. Over the course of the week participants were tasked with painting plein air at various locations along the Norfolk Coast, in the Norfolk Broads and in Norwich. On the last day I was very pleased when my daily efforts brought me the award of first prize in the competition.

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The following month I found myself taking part in Sky Arts ‘Landscape of the Year’.  Filming for my heat took place at West Wycombe – in a beautiful estate landscape, now belonging to the National Trust, where I was 1 of 50 Wildcards competing and occasionally being interviewed for an episode that would be broadcast in January 2021. At the end of a very hot and exhausting day I was slightly stunned to find myself the Wildcard winner.

Meanwhile back in Nottinghamshire I had submitted work to a number of open exhibition/competitions and was successful in having one of my paintings selected for the Harley Open Exhibition (from 1 August to 1 November) and another shortlisted for the Sir John Hurt Art Prize (that was due to be exhibited 26-27 September). The latter event had survived the lock down only to succumb to hurricane conditions, which destroyed the Marquees it was to have been held in.

Then in October, a piece of my sculpture was accepted into the Wales Contemporary 2020 exhibition at the Waterfront Gallery in Milford Haven. This required me to travel across Wales, just ahead of a lockdown. The exhibition was delayed but opened on 12 Nov. Due to run to the end of December, it was cut short although their virtual version continued. Its scheduled transfer to the Oxo tower in London on 25 Feb sadly has been cancelled – but a little bit of good news is that the gallery is planning a 10-day extension, entitled ‘Wales Contemporary Re-awakening’, at a time when they are able to be open again.

Meanwhile, in the background I had been preparing for a solo exhibition of my work at Gallery 6 in Newark. This space was very kindly offered to me by gallerist Melanie before Covid came to dominate our lives and the exhibition date was put back several times before we eventually settled on December with the title ‘Between Times‘, showing the series of paintings that charted my dream-like life during the spring and summer of this unique year. The exhibition opened on 9 December and although again cut short by further lockdown, continued virtually through January 2021. In spite of the severe limits on visitor numbers, I’m glad to say several painting sold from the exhibition.

Through the year I was pleased to find I was still selling work both locally and from  galleries further afield that stock my work.

Paintings selected for Royal Cambrian Academy Annual Exhibition 2021And so we entered the new Year – in another lockdown – and I am continuing to be inspired by surrounding farmlands, exploring and extending my techniques. I am also continuing to work with galleries as they find ways to keep going and supporting their artists. My website, on which this art blog sits, has also been the subject of some redeveloping and extending and I have looked to furthering my social media interactions on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and YouTube as well as developing an Etsy shop for my print and card reproductions.

Susan Isaac - Absent FriendsFinally I am continuing the round of submitting work to professional organisations – and once again have recently had 2 works accepted by Royal Cambrian Academy annual exhibition 2021. Initially this is an on line exhibition, that opened on 13 February, with the postponed gallery exhibition opening at a date to be decided in late spring/early summer (when the announcement of prize winners will be made). I also have two works in The Old Lock Up Gallery‘s OPEN iso 2021 virtual exhibition from 7 – 21 March. and several pieces are in a curated Auction of Contemporary Investment Art with Chalkwells on Tuesday 9 March at 6:30pm.

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Sky Arts ‘Landscape Artist of the Year 2020/21’

In August 2020 I found myself taking part in filming for Sky Arts ‘Landscape Artist of the Year’. With episode 2 having been broadcast in January, it seems a good time to give my recollection of that particular day.

Having watched LAOTY over the years, I’ve often mused wistfully that, despite promptings from friends and fellow painters, it would be unthinkable for me to offer myself up for scrutiny on a TV programme – being by nature a sociophobe! As an early fan of self-isolation I was ahead of the pack when lockdown dawned in the spring of 2020. But then, with the end of the world looking a bit nigh, I felt oddly compelled to address my fears, phobias and forebodings and drop my name in to the LAOTY hat. After all, I thought, even if this next series were to go ahead, by the time of broadcast there would surely be only a few people left alive to watch!

Thus I sent off an application and waited with mounting anxiety at my foolish folly. To my inordinate relief, the result was negative!  I could relax back into tried and tested anonymity. Summer pressed strangely on and just as I’d begun to brood over an opportunity missed, the call of the wild card dangled itself over the internet, like a Wonka factory golden ticket. I held my breath, clicked my heels and snatched the opportunity. This time the response came back in the affirmative. Moreover, I could see this lower-key approach playing better to my natural inclinations – in the mosh pits of the wild cards I could choose, if necessary, to hide behind vegetation, leaving no one the wiser that I had ever taken part!

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‘Between Times’ – Home Made Lemonade

Susan Isaac - Home made Lemonade (High Farm)In April last year, the pastel brightness of spring greens and cherry blossom was illuminating the garden day after day, tempting us outside to dig, paint or just sit and ponder. The Lloyd Loom Chair is a favoured piece of furniture which originally lived in my childhood bedroom and has since followed me around the country in a variety of locations. I love oddments of ‘occasional’ chairs and collect them like vases. The best ones are beautiful and functional as well as portable.

‘Home Made Lemonade’, oil on paper, 38x28cm, £480 at Gallery 6 in Newark-on-Trent – part of my continuing ‘Between Times’ solo exhibition.

 

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‘Between Times’ – Kitchen Sink Drama

Here is another work from my ‘Between Times’ solo exhibition, which continues at Gallery 6 in Newark-on-Trent – ‘Kitchen Sink Drama (High Farm)’, mixed media on canvas, 51x51cm, £500 (unframed).

Susan Isaac - Kitchen Sink Drama (High Farm) Whilst looking around the kitchen for inspiration one day, the accumulation of dishes in the kitchen sink drew my attention. I must confess that I quite enjoy the routine process of layering and building semi-balancing towers, reminiscent of a child’s set of stacking cups, placing smaller pieces within larger vessels and in turn arranged these within the framing of the ceramic sink. The outlines of these shapes then become interrupted by an assortment of knives and spoons, counterbalanced across rims or protruding from within mugs. Above this, running like a dado border, is a more carefully spaced and semi-permanent display of jugs and pots on the window sill. The draining board striations, repeated in the wooden planking of the flooring, are a reminder of a familiar drawing room motif, hinting at lines of perspective.

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‘Between Times’ – The Wicker Chair Trio

Susan Isaac - The Wicker ChairThis is the fourth installment about my solo exhibition, ‘Between Times’ at Gallery 6 in Newark-on-Trent, 9 Dec 2020 to 9 Jan 2021. Although the gallery is currently closed under Covid restrictions, you can see the full catalogue of works on the gallery website and contact the gallery for more information.

The wicker chairs that appear in these paintings becamSusan Isaac - Wicker Chairs and Tablee an important motif for me this year. They were, in part, a reminder of shared time with friends who’s company, under the circumstances, could no longer be enjoyed. But also these old Rattan chairs had belonged to my parents who had died some years earlier, and although still retaining their elegant form they had very little structural integrity and were no longer in useful service.

I put them in the orchard in early spring, and as summer progressed into autumn they dissolved further and the orchard vegetation began to grow rather beautifully through them, gradually absorbing them.

Through April and May, the Rattan bindings remained reasonably intact and their sharpened details gave opportunity to create striking woven textures to contrast with the abundance of nature’s patternation. The lines of elegantly Susan Isaac - Sun through the Orchard (High Farm)manufactured shapes harmonised with their organic surroundings whilst at the same time drawing the eye to an ephemeral human presence.

By September, as the surfaces lost their distinction, I let the pair take on a more distant silhouetted appearance, entwined with the apple branches, sometimes flushed with an acute golden sunlight.

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‘Between Times’ – Rabbit Hole Days, Apple Blossom & Washing

Here is a third installment about my solo exhibition, ‘Between Times’ at Gallery 6 in Newark-on-Trent, 9 Dec 2020 to 9 Jan 2021. Sadly the gallery has had to close under the latest restrictions, but the full catalogue of works is on the gallery website and you can contact the gallery for more information.

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By March of this year, the luxury of being outside and near to nature took on a new and urgent importance for me. Passages of the farm land, at one time taken for granted, became precious places as we were gifted with a moment to ‘stand and stare’. The orchard in particular became a refuge of abundant plant and animal activity.

The unabating ‘business as usual’ pattern of bird life all around was immensely soothing, as was the seasonal performance from the variety of apple, pear and plum trees. I allowed myself to sit and be mesmerised by the gentle theatre surrounding me. An old 3 legged fruit-picking ladder often strode into view, giving a hint of human habitation. This was gradually supplemented by a washing line which animated the scene. Eventually chairs and a table were fetched up to give new forms and textures and as a reminder of more congenial times. And all against a changing backdrop of buds, blossoms and fruits.

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‘Between Times’ – two paintings

Here are two more pieces that are available as part of my ‘Between Times’ exhibition Gallery 6 in Newark – the gallery is hoping to open again on Weds 30 Dec, meanwhile all of the paintings can be viewed on the Gallery 6 website.

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These were experimental paintings that followed on from my tonal studies of the same subject matter in my earlier post, exploring ways to convey spacial depth. They were made at home in March at the outset of lock down. I’m working here in the old crew yard on our farm, where 6 months earlier we’d held a ceilidh for our eldest daughters wedding. Unable to travel under the new restrictions, I was searching for something of interest to work from. I also saw the potential for variety in further studies – an ever changing washing line. Standing here on sunny days I’m always struck by the way that light diffuses through the clothing as well as the changing patterns of shadows being cast on the crew yard floor.

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Wales Contemporary Exhibition 2020

Susan Isaac - Working the LandscapeI was delighted in September to have one of my sculptural pieces, ‘Working the Landscape’, shortlisted in the Wales Contemporary Exhibition 2020, to be held at the Waterfront Gallery in Milford Haven. Having delivered my  work at the end of October, sadly the exhibition timings were then disrupted by  Covid-19 restrictions. The planned opened on 6 Nov was delayed to 12 November, with the intention to remain open to 30 December. Unfortunately the gallery had to close its doors again on 4 December so that far fewer people have been able to see the exhibition than planned.

It is, however, possible to get a sense of the exhibition and to view all of the works online. First, the  Waterfront Gallery website has a full listing of works in the exhibition, including mine. Second, the gallery organisers took the opportunity to film the launch event. Unable to be at the opening myself due to restrictions that came into England at that time, and although not amongst the prizewinners, I  was pleasantly surprised to see (as below) that my piece happened to be centre-frame for much of the video! The exhibition was formally opened by Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism for the Welsh Government,  with prizes announced by sponsors Port  of Milford Haven,  Valero UK, Rob & Tessa Thompson and George James. The submissions were judged by artist Basil Beattie RA, Welsh-based sculptor Sebastien Boyesen, plus painter and emeritus professor Gerda Roper, and in a second video you can watch the judges and sponsors discussing the exhibition.

Here is a glimpse of my piece, a ceramic sculptural group:

As I wrote in my submission for the exhibition, “These figures are reflections on Welsh mining landscapes – contoured layers referencing mountainside surface workings and underground coal seams, made poignant by my uncle’s recent death in his Valleys home close to the mine he and earlier generations worked in.”

WALES CONTEMPORARY EXHIBITION 2020 – at the Waterfront Gallery in conjunction with Cyngor Celfyddydau Cymru (Arts Council of Wales)
12-30 December, 2020

Shortlist Exhibition: at the Waterfront Gallery, Milford Haven, The Old Sail loft, Discovery Quay, The Docks, Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire SA73 3AF.
Transfers to the gallery@oxo, London, 25 Feb – 7 Mar 2021.

 

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Crew Yard Ink Drawing Studies

Susan Isaac - From under the Crew YardThese two ink drawing studies are part of my ‘Between Times‘ exhibition at Gallery 6. Both were made during lockdown in April at our farm, against the backdrop of the old Crew Yard that abuts our 18th century threshing barn. They made for an interesting compendium of human activity – I liked the sense of a conveyor belt of daily life, a sort of suspended animation.

In the first, ‘From under the Crew Yard (High Farm)‘, the shapes outlined with light and the shadows thrown by the various items of clothing (similar but different each wash day) are framed by the crew yard beams and pillars. The warmth and light seemed to radiate through the clothing and reflect down from the corrugated roof.

Susan Isaac - View from the Crew YardIn ‘View from the Crew Yard (High Farm)‘, the washing became highlighted against the deeply shadowed barn wall. I enjoyed following the mechanical details of barn construction and the neighbouring old stable, becoming increasingly aware of functionality as well as the gentle, seemingly incidental, decorative detailing. The spacing and proportions of the rough wooden pillars and the corrugated wave of iron sheeting of the Crew Yard building keeping step with the lines of pantiles and dentilated eaves of the older barn and stable – form and function in harmony.

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