Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
blue dog pink muzzle

blue dog pink muzzle.

The colourful world of Susan Taylor

There may be a clue in the title of Susan Taylor’s exhibition, soft material in the skull plus electrical impulses, that the work is going to be a little challenging. Her curiosity whetted,  HOT reporter Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went along to Susan’s studio to find out more about this contemporary painting show.

It is always interesting to see the body of an artist’s work exhibited altogether. An individual painting gives you a glimpse of the creator’s concerns and practice, but a show gives the opportunity to see the techniques and the range of the artist’s preoccupations up close.



Susan’s work is colourful, effervescent and boisterous. There is a boldness and confidence about the work; a self-assurance about her use of colour: reds and oranges, pinks and yellows, which give a sense of emotional freedom and peace;  the balance of tones, textures and shapes of the images. Colours could clash, shapes could be noisy, the paintings shout discordantly, yet in Susan’s hands there is a sense of calm, a settling in the images. And out of these shapes strange figures emerge, the natural world impinges, or a jumble of emotions erupt in blues, reds against a green background.

“I work instinctively. I go into myself and am guided by something that tells me where to go. When I start painting I really do not know what is going to emerge. I get into a rhythm, work slowly and listen hard. If I work too fast I can lose what was there. I need to be open-minded and see what I see and let the images talk to me.” And then the painting takes on a life of its own and “like children they grow into themselves.”

Art does not arrive fully formed as if from nowhere; it cannot be anything but formed directly from the artist. Susan is reluctant to express what things mean, what emotions she is feeling. She admits, “I begin with not knowing what is going to arrive on the page. I don’t trust my conscious imagination. I work intuitively. I go inside myself and let whatever is there come out.”

While working there is a constant dialogue between her, the colour, the work and the figures that emerge. She usually begins with colour, the precise colour is of paramount importance. She  pours the paint, she allows it to trickle, then uses large paint brushes, fingers, a palette knife, whatever she thinks is appropriate, to create the effect she wants – a thin wash, painting and over-painting, thick, textured layers and often on thick Indian paper that gives an extra dimension to the work.

behind her back

behind her back.

She works instinctively, stops, allows the painting to emerge, tries not to be bossy, to impose her will. For instance, blue dog pink muzzle began with pouring the blue paint and dabbing it with a big brush and a dog appeared, and, “I really loved him but I didn’t know what else to do with him.” So she left him for some time and later painted the textured greens and browns, gave him his white space and the last thing was the pink muzzle.

To me, looking around the images in the studio, there appear to be a few recurring themes: the natural world, and birds – wings,  flying, movement, letting go. A sense of freedom and the intrinsic importance of life and the natural world. Susan does not differentiate between figures and shapes: they all have meaning to her. “If something is an animal or not is up to the viewer. To me things are like creatures. Whether everyone who looks at them feels that way I don’t know, but for me it’s like this.”

For all the vibrancy of the colours, there is a sense that not far below the surface shadows lurk.  And that is what gives the work its depth and interest. After having seen the work in her studio many of the images stayed with me for quite some hours afterwards.



Susan is a fascinating jumble of contradictions: she calls herself “a non visual artist,” meaning, I think, that she can’t draw what she sees, yet she clearly is very visual; she doesn’t trust words, yet words appear in the work; she reads extensively; she writes all the time and three of her poetry-cum-prose books are part of the exhibition. Colour is important and she takes time to mix the precise colour, the right juxtaposition of tones makes a complex flowing, abstract painting, and then she will produce a black-and-white painting – there is a small, almost cartoon-like flock of birds flying towards the viewer, a bird diving into the blue with a whale-like tail fin.

Previously a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths College, Susan Taylor, who moved to Hastings five years ago, is an artist of many years’ standing. Her practice has veered between photography, performance work, collage and painting. And although her recent work is predominantly painting, earlier images of earlier practices from performance and photography have quietly crept in.

First Sight Gallery’s Denise Franklin says, “I am excited by Susan’s work and really pleased to have this exhibition in the gallery. It might be challenging  for some but it is good to see yet another accomplished painter showing in Hastings. Critics have periodically pronounced painting dead – after the introduction of the camera and photographs and later with the elevation of conceptual art.  Now, shock, horror! painting is once again proclaimed as a potent art form.” Also interesting to see is the present show at the De La Warr Pavilion, I Cheer a Deadman’s Sweetheart, exhibiting 21 painters of different hues and practices.

soft material in the skull plus electrical impulses  is at First Sight Gallery, 34 High Street, Hastings, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10am-5pm, from  28 March-13 April.


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Posted 22:03 Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 In: Visual Arts

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