Susan Gathercole - Spotlight Initiative

As Susan brought me up the winding path that leads through her garden, we arrive at the most magical sun house, she uses as her studio. It’s here that she can stare over the beautiful hills of Snowdonia National park and as well our setting for our interview. Her studio is a treasure trove of the eclectic, with so many little bits of paraphernalia that each have their own stories. The room exudes warm tones and beautiful relaxing colours that anyone can find peace in this extraordinary space. As we sit down over a cup of coffee with delicious dark chocolate and ginger biscuits and stare out at the view, we begin the interview.

What got you into doing Fine art? 

“Encouraged by creative parents, I have drawn and painted since childhood. Growing up, my mother’s beautiful sketchbooks (she studied art at Liverpool in the 1950ies at the same time as John Lennon) were a fundamental source of stimulation. My sister, Gill Gathercole is also a practicing artist, and great inspiration. We were given paints and paper from a very young age, and never really thought of doing anything else.”

Do you have any favourite artists? Anyone who inspires you in regard to your work?

 “I love mid-century British artists like Ben and Winifred Nicholson, John Piper, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Stanley Spencer. Mary Fedden and Mary Newcomb are other strong influences. I must confess I’ve just discovered (a bit late in the day) Pinterest, and am finding it a very useful source of learning and inspiration. For example I didn’t know Mary Newcomb had visited North Wales.”

What journey did you take when it came to learning your trade? Did you learn or were you self-taught? 

“After a wonderful two-year art foundation course in Accrington, Lancashire with a strong emphasis on drawing from observation, I took a degree in fine art at Liverpool, graduating in 1984. I’m also indebted to local teacher Sandra Rawcliffe, who taught me a huge amount about composition in particular. I am lucky to have a very supportive partner, and a strong circle of creative friends who have been really encouraging and motivating in my work.”

Does any of the local heritage, landscapes inspire you and your work?

“Yes – I think the atmosphere and colour of the North Wales landscape is present in my work.”

What would you consider as your biggest art project you have undertaken? 

“My joint show at the Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff this April. Established in 1992 MTG is the leading private gallery in Wales representing great artists like Shani Rhys James and Clive Hicks-Jenkins.”

Link to Joint Show at Martin Tinney Gallery

Does living here inspire you for any future pieces? 

“Yes – traditional Welsh textiles and local ceramics, not to mention the sea, the mountains, wildflowers, the history and architecture are all an endless source of interest and hopefully future work.”

I personally believe that an artist’s workshop reflects their art style, how would you describe your workshop? Maybe in three words? 

“Inviting, colourful, eclectic.”

What would be your most memorable project? 

“My first joint show at Bangor Museum and Gallery. My knees were trembling with nerves at the opening, but I was very pleased to see all my work up on the walls – it was very gratifying after all the hard work to see it all come together a big blast of colour and pattern, and the warm response to my work from the visitors was like rocket fuel as an encouragement.”

You’ve recently become a member of the Royal Cambrian Academy, what is your opinion of the gallery? 

“The RCA is one of North Wales’ best kept secrets. It’s a beautiful space run by an incredibly dedicated team of staff and volunteers, showing a wide range of work. It’s a great honour to have been invited to join and exhibit alongside artists I admire and respect including Mary Lloyd Jones, Ann Lewis and Eleri Mills.
The RCA President, Jeremy Yates is a hugely positive influence in terms of opening up the gallery to the community – his generous inclusiveness is having a great impact on the Academy’s role as an important cultural landmark.”

You have also helped out with workshops at the gallery, do you enjoy working alongside the community? 

“It’s always a treat to work with groups of people. We can always learn something from each other, and I’m moved and fascinated to see how creative other people are. I often see work by children or young people and wish I could have done what they did.”

What is your opinion of the community arts? 

“We’re very lucky to have access to talks, lectures, masterclasses, live music events and exhibitions not only at the RCA but right across North Wales. Events like Helfa Gelf for example reveal a tremendous wealth of local creativity. And innovative, energetic people like Arts Manager at Wrexham Council and Director of Oriel Wrexham, Steffan Jones-Hughes are making great connections between artists and their local communities.”

Do you think there should be more of a push for working alongside the community?

“Yes. This begins in school though. I think the government should stop spending money on nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations and invest it in education, with as much weight given to art as any other subject.”

Do you have any upcoming projects?

“I’m working towards a joint show at the RCA in March 2018. Meanwhile I’m about to visit northern Italy and the Dolomites and am looking forward to seeing how the landscape, people and culture there impact on my work.”

What is your opinion of the Spotlight initiative?

“It sounds like a tremendous project. I can see it has great potential, as a forum for people working in the creative world to make connections and support each other. Congratulations, Tom – I look forward to following Spotlight’s progress.”

To new and upcoming practitioners, do you have any advice? 

“Listen carefully to constructive criticism, whilst holding on to your vision. And when things don’t work out the first time, keep going”.

And finally, in three words, could you describe your art work? 

“Vivid, irregular, narrative.”

I would like to say thank you to Susan, who graciously showed me round her home and studio and gave her time to share with not only myself, but with all the viewers a little bit about her life and her practice/work. Thank you Susan! Welcome to ‘The Spotlight Initiative’! 

Susan Gathercole Website

Susan Gathercole’s profile on the Martin Tinney Gallery Website

Susan Gathercole’s Pinterest Page

If the links above work here are some of the links below:

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