The Artist's Gaze: Susannah Martin
What compels you to the specific women you choose to paint?
All of the women who I have painted so far have been either family or friends wo have generously agreed to model for me. These are women who are already near and dear to me so that it is completely natural for me to enjoy spending the time appreciating them in paint.
When do you know you have made a significant connection to your subject and what does that feel or look like from your perspective ?
Although I generally do not think of my nudes as portraits and I do not obsess about getting a proper likeness with them, I suppose that I feel connected when I can feel the models character in the painting. Ultimately the painting does end up looking very much like the model but more importantly, it feels like that person. Because I photograph my models outdoors as reference for the paintings, what that person does while naked outside, how they react, move , etc., will very authentically expose their character to me. Often I will discover new elements to their character which I was not aware of through this process. I tend to be attracted to the gestures and facial expressions which feel the most genuine and I never pose or stage my models. They react and I paint them reacting.
Tell us about a strong reaction you have received to your work and the impact you sense it has made on the subject, viewer or the greater cultural landscape.
I am happy to say that all of my models have told me in hindsight that the modelling experience was an enriching one and almost all have agreed to model again. It is important to me that the experience benefits everyone concerned. The public´s reaction to my nudes is always strong. They may love the paintings or hate them but they are rarely left cold by them, which gives me the sense that I am doing my job correctly. The longer that I paint the nude , the deeper I become aware of how limited the range of perspectives about the body has been so far throughout art history. Sadly, I fear that the nude in art is often subjected to the same rigid aesthetic criteria that are imposed on the body itself in todays society. Particularly when it applies to women. It continues to shock me to no end with what ease and presumptuousness people feel the right to judge womens bodies. The aesthetic judgement of the female body still seems to precede any legitimate contemplation of her as a human being. As far as the male figure is concerned, I find that many people are unwilling to contemplate it at all. To make a very general statement I would say that for many people the female nude is worthy of contemplation only under certain aesthetic conditions and the male nude is often seen as an outright affront.
What is it about your personal journey that has brought your gaze to focus so deeply on women?
The fact that the majority of my painted nudes depict women has more to do with the fact that male nudes are difficult to get exhibited or sold. My first nude in this series was a man holding his son and I absolutely loved painting it. I love to paint people, all kinds of people. However, the public is not always open to looking at all kinds of nudes.
Why this visual dialogue ? What do you hope to accomplish through your work?
I see painting as a necessary part of being, like eating or sleeping or having sex. People have always smeared marks on walls, floors, paper or whatever they could get their hands on. The visual dialogue is a form of communication and humans have an inexhaustible need to communicate. The visual dialogue is also between the artist and the physical world. It is a way in which we can explore and begin to fathom the world around us. If there is anything to be accomplished with painting then I hope that it will in fact be the insight that I have gained and shared in the process.
How does your subject make a change in your artists gaze?
I feel that I change and grow and see art and life a bit differently with every painting I make. Painting people expands and deepens my love for humanity continuously.
Tell us about your current series of work and how it may be different from the work submitted for the show.
I am continuing to paint the nude in landscape because I do not feel that I have exhausted the possibilities of what the painted nude can be. I have most recently begun to incorporate animals and occassional objects of popular culture into my work. An underlying theme in my work has always been the cleft between man in his natural state and man as consumer or cultural being. This antagonistic realtionship is coming increasingly to the forefront in my work. I am interested in exploring further the nature of our enslavement to our own cultural creations and our psychic battle for liberation from these addictions.