Early career (1962–1975)At age 20 Susan held her first solo exhibition in Broken Hill in April 1962. She exhibited over 60 works including oils, watercolours, lithographs, etchings and drawings – all 52 catalogued works were sold [Review]. She always used Masonite (composition board) for oil painting because the cost of canvas was prohibitive. Following the exhibition Susan settled in Sydney, where she rented a room and worked full-time as a shop assistant at Grace Brothers department store. She still found time to draw and paint on weekends and adapted her landscape style to the softer atmosphere and colours of the east coast. Her large portrait Perce (talking to pet budgie on his hand) was accepted in the 1962 Waratah Festival Art Competition in Hyde Park; the portrait was later vandalized – all that remains is a fragment discovered by chance a decade later covering a fireplace.
Susan married in 1962 and the couple rented squalid lodgings in Paddington. Crammed for space, the mattress had to be stacked upright against the wall to make room for painting large works. She took on shift work, selling newspapers at Wynyard railway station in Sydney's hub, and a year later worked as a sales assistant in a city bargain store.
The first of three children, Michaela, was born in 1964 followed by Paul in 1965 and Stephen in 1968. Rearing children did not prevent Susan from creating – rather the children, the joy of her life, provided inspiration and subject matter. They continue to do so, with the later addition of grandchildren. The family moved to Glebe in 1967, where to make ends meet, Susan took on menial jobs such as dressmaking, sewing theatre curtains, and making paper flowers that she sold in the street from the baby’s pram.
Influenced by Turner and ancient Chinese artists, Susan's landscape style changed from plein air painting to creating compositions at home combining imagination with sketches made at the scene: Outcrop 1965. She began painting in acrylics in the mid-1960s – Uncle Ted 1967 is an example. Compared to oils she preferred the lighter tones of this water-based medium, which allowed her to apply numerous washes to achieve an ethereal effect [Silent River, Lane Cove 1971].
Many of Susan’s paintings and drawings continued to be systematically destroyed throughout the decade 1962–72, including early works such as the large award-winning painting Rock Shelter (1959). The writer and collector Joan Kinmont encouraged her during this difficult time, purchasing a number of her paintings such as Inland Wilderness 1962 and caring for others: Still Life (Julian Ashton Art School) 1960, and Paddington by Night 1963.
Susan was able to exhibit again when she became a single parent in 1971. To support the family she took on a job waitressing in the evening and used her bedroom as a studio to produce work for a solo exhibition at the 1972 Adelaide Festival of Arts. Although this exhibition of landscapes in oils, acrylics, and watercolours was a sell-out, it barely covered the costs of framing and transport. Genre paintings that reflect this period in Glebe include Awaiting 1971 and Cul-de-sac 1972.
In 1972 Susan met her present partner and in 1973 the family settled in Annandale. For the first time she had space for a studio beneath the split-level house, where she still works today. Her landscape Nootambulla Gorge 1972-73, painted from sketches made on a camping trip to Mutawintji, was selected for the 1974 Wynne Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. Taking up lithography again in 1972, Susan produced prints at the Willoughby Workshop Arts Centre until she established a lithographic workshop in her studio. Initially she modified a vintage clothes-wringer to print lithographs using a sheet of plywood for a press bed: Byzantine Birthday 1975 and Pedestrian Crossing 1977, until she acquired a Dickerson printing press in 1977. In the mid-1970’s Susan changed from painting on composition board (Masonite) to wood panel (plywood). The earliest example, the collage painting Eric's Café 1974, was awarded the 1975 Macquarie University John Gero Prize judged by Lloyd Rees.
Read more...» Childhood, student years (1951–1961)
» Early career (1962–1975)
» Mid-career to international (1976–1987)
» Mature years, international (1988–present)