” I’m struck by the beauty of Su’s work. Her pieces are fragile and ephemeral, and the more you look, the more you see. I can see the influence of her textiles training, too – there are multiple repeats and each letter is like a stitch. It’s as if she’s weaving with words”.
Justin Croft, Antiquarian Bookseller.
Su Blackwell is an artist working predominantly within the realm of paper.
Su has exhibited her exquisite sculptures extensively. Her illustrated book of fairy tales ‘The Fairytale Princess’, written by Wendy Jones, and published by Thames & Hudson was released in November last year. Su’s book-sculptures are currently on display at The Pavilion, Sea City Museum in Southampton. Her illustrations are contributed to a regular column in ‘Intelligent Life’ magazine and Harper’s Bazaar UK. Su has also turned her hand to theater set-design. In 2011, she designed the set for The Rose Theatre’s production of ‘The Snow Queen’ in Kingston.
Praise for ‘The Snow Queen’:
‘There is a great deal to charm here, especially in Su Blackwell’s cutout paper designs, which conjure fairytale forests and winking houses’.
Lyn Gardner, The Guardian
‘The scantly coloured set by Su Blackwell, with its paper cut-out trees and houses, is lovely’.
Domonic Cavendish, The Telegraph
Su says of her work…
”I often work within the realm of fairy-tales and folk-lore. I began making a series of book-sculpture, cutting-out images from old books to create three-dimensional diorama’s, and displaying them inside wooden boxes”.
”For the cut-out illustrations, I tend to lean towards young-girl characters, placing them in haunting, fragile settings, expressing the vulnerability of childhood, while also conveying a sense of childhood anxiety and wonder. There is a quiet melancholy in the work, depicted in the material used, and choice of subtle colour.”
Paper has been used for communication since its invention; either between humans or in an attempt to communicate with the spirit world. I employ this delicate, accessible medium and use irreversible, destructive processes to reflect on the precariousness of the world we inhabit and the fragility of our life, dreams and ambitions.
Su Blackwell, 2007
Su Blackwell Studio Ltd. was set up in 2011 to work on a variety of projects, commissions and collaborations. The studio comprises of Su (director) and her assistants, ‘Emma and Freya’.
Su is represented by Long and Ryle Gallery, London.
Questions and Answers
• Please, introduce yourself and explain what you do.
I was born in Sheffield in 1975. My mother was a nurse, my father a gas technician. As a child, I spent a lot of time playing in the woods near to my home, in my own make-believe World. I gave the tree’s names, and believed they would protect me. I made dens, with curtains and carpets that I scavenged from home. I didn’t like school much, except for my English lessons, where I liked writing stories, letting my imagination run free. I enjoyed Art at School, but I didn’t like the way it was taught. It was too didactic. I floated out of School, not really knowing what to do next. By chance, I happened upon a textiles course run at the local college, and this is something I turned out to really enjoy and begin to feel passionate about. The textile course really suited me, and it fueled my curiosity for texture and materials. I went on to study textiles at Bradford College, and a year later went on to study for an MA in Textiles at the Royal College of Art in London. Since leaving College, I worked as an artist-in-residence in School’s in Scotland. I began to get some Shows in London in 2006, and my work began to get more widely seen. I now live and work in West London.
• For how long have you been working with your paper technique? How did it first start?
I started this technique after graduating from RCA in 2003. It started after a trip to Thailand, where I bought a beautiful second-hand book on the Kao San Road. My father had passed away while I was studying at the RCA, and I was thinking about life, death, and the in-between. My first book-sculpture was ‘The Quiet American’. I cut moths from the book with a craft-knife. The piece was inspired by a Chinese legend, about two lovers whose souls re-emerge from burnt ashes in the shape of two Moths. I began working with paper, because of its connection to spiritual rituals that I encountered in South East Asia, and this in turn led me to work with books, and fairy tales.
• Although yours is such a personal work, whose has inspired or influenced you?
Artist’s who have influenced me are Ann Hamilton, Annette Messenger, Joseph Cornell and Jonathan Callan. Jonathan Callan’s Show ‘Interferance’ at The New Art Gallery in Walsall had a profound influence on me.
• Whose work, besides influences, do you fully admire?
Kiki Smith, Christian Boltanski. Mariele Nuedeker, and Paula Rego. I like that these artists work in such a varied way, with a menagerie of materials.
• What makes the difference in-between your personal work and those works that are commissioned? What remains the same in the process?
I see it as being two very different things. I am following somebody else’s brief. I find making my personal work more challenging, but in a different way to the challenge I face when working in the Commercial Sector. When I am working to my own brief; sometimes that is more difficult than working to somebody else’s brief. There is more at stake. The techniques and processes remain the same and they feed into each other. In my own work I can take more time, and therefore take more chances, experiment more.
•What are your hobbies and interests? Are they somehow visible through your work?
I love reading, walking. I enjoy being in nature and bird-watching. I like visiting Museums, Art-galleries, Theatre, Ballet and Films.
• Your work is quite delicate and full of detail, about how long does it take you to prepare one piece?
I always read the book first, at least once or twice, and then I begin to create the work, cutting out, adding details. The detail is what brings it all together, the magic element. It is a tediously slow process.
• Do you preview the whole scenario you’re about to create or somehow go with the material flow?
I have an idea, but I definitely let the materials lead me. The idea is led in part by the materials.
• What do you do for the material preservation of your work?
I treat the paper to protect it from UV damage.
• What are the differences in-between your paper and your fabric work?
I treat the materials the same. Paper is more malleable to the hand, it has a visible memory. I am not tired of working with paper, in fact the more I work with it, the more fascinating it becomes. Fabric is less forgiving than paper.
• In some interview you pointed you wanted to develop large scale work, how is that going?
I tend to correlate smaller elements to create larger scale work. I feel that by just enlarging the scale, some of the intimacy of my work is lost.
• What are your next projects and activities?
I am co-curating an exhibition of book-arts to open in April 2014.