Artist Statement: Theatre Paintings by Susan Wald
My work explores the identity and vulnerability of a woman living through the period of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. There are questions of mortality, authenticity, conformity, the fear of death and the emotions hidden behind the masks we present to others in our daily lives. How much does the fear of death equate with not living one’s life fully? What does it mean to be authentic and how do we respond to the losses we may suffer when we are true to ourselves and don't conform to what others want us to be.
Growing up in a generation post Second World War and all its horrors, the threat of global destruction, women's liberation, consumer capitalismand shifts in social identity, I struggle to find meaning and a resonance of an equivalent in paint, a space that is a paintedexperience, both psychological and spiritual.
I have always tried to make sense of myself and where I fit into the world through painting and drawing, working with my experiences, emotions and responses in an effort to extract some kind of truth which hopefully is meaningful for myself and the viewer. This is both a struggle and a joy for me. It is not a choice but a way of life which I feel privileged to be part of. It is a difficult occupation for a painter in this world of ours, In which the pace is so fast, to try and make sense of our time in this very slow and supposedly old fashioned medium. Technology, the instant moment and quick reward have taken over our lives. It is much more difficult for us to be with ourselves - to make and to spend time with works. I believe that painting in the twenty first century can still be a potent medium, one that is able to speak about and reflect on our time in a powerful way. In my work I try to express something of the quality and subtlety of what it feels like to be human - of the internal world of emotions, the pain and the knowledge that we are essentially alone in the world.
The figure and the space, the internal life rather than the appearance of what we present to others, is what interests me.
There is no narrative. The observer is able to create his or her own narrative rather than have a prescribed response. There are no objects or possessions to express status or station in life - the opposite of so many history paintings where all the exterior life is described in minute detail. An example, in a more intimate sense, is Rembrandt's late self-portraits, as opposed to his early ones, which describe his wealth by painting his ornate trappings and his station in life. The late ones are non-descriptive and are more about his inner life. It is the paintings of the past that I love and learn from - the power the great works have to connect to the deeper layers of our psyche. I feel an emotional connectedness. They enter my nervous system and the longer I gaze at them the stronger they become. For me it is important to visually absorb the artists of the past, to understand the structure and bones of the painting as well as feeling an emotional response. If the structure and bones are solid, the painting will grow. Whether it is a Cezanne, Rothko, Goya, Velasqeth, Soutine, or the cave paintings, it is the same for me. Their individual language and way of putting the work together speaks of a universal humanity.
Drawing is the core of my painting. Although drawing has a broad definition these days, for me it creates an awareness of the abstract elements, opening up an awareness of myself, which I try to convey in paint. It is how I feel my way into a subject, familiarize myself with it or just draw for drawings sake. It is also a way to see the world, for as you draw you see as you never do when just looking. You are able to abstract what you see and draw in your own personal language.
When I paint I push the work to the point where it feels complete and it speaks back to me, speaks of something of what I am feeling and trying to say. I strive for an abstraction, a geometry - for forces, rhythms and energies to exist within the work. It takes much time because of the need to take it further than just a description - into something more. After a period of gestation the paintings gradually form, some discarded, others achieving completion, hopefully successfully connecting and communicating.
The monoprints have become an integral part of my working practice facilitating rapid experimentation and subtle development of the image. They condense the innumerable contextual reactions in the drawing into a controllable form.
An old passion of mine is the theatre. Although some elements of the theatre are evident in my work, I try to find an equivalent and use the theatre as a springboard to develop my own personal visual language. I could use an example of Degas and the Ballet. The abstract sense of his work is so powerful. He uses the ballet as a vehicle. My wish is not to paint ballet or illustrate theatre but to condense it down to the essence of the experience and when possible, to use metaphor to provoke the imagination.
Over the last twenty years writers like Samuel Beckett have become one of many influences from the theatre. Reading Beckett's work sends small shocks through my nervous system. To me it is like the skeletons of our humanity. It leaves me with a sense of a distilled essence. With a few words he is able to conjure up the universal.
Many years ago, watching a documentary by Werner Hertzog at the Melbourne film festival, I was struck by the incredible beauty of the images making the desolation possible to bear, to feel and to acknowledge. I would like to paint pictures that are so beautifully painted that the viewer is able to digest any pain they may convey.
Between 1991 and 1994 I spent approximately six weeks drawing during rehearsals of each production of Jean Pierre Mignon's direction of Beckett's 'End Game', Eugene Ionesco's 'The Chairs' and Raymond Cousse's 'Strategy of Two Hams' all performed at the old Anthill Theatre. Over the years followed other theatre experiences like Barrie Kosky's 'The ExileTrilogy', whose imagery I have revisited in this series of Monoprints. More recently Adena Jacobs directed Sophocles 'Elektra'. The space we shared was so intimate that we seemed to be enveloped in each other’s breath. I found myself working in an environment of physical, emotional and intellectual experimentation; it was a collective interaction as opposed to the solitary studio pursuit. The air permeated with a creative energy so powerful I absorbed it. This in turn enriched my own creativity. Day after day I would draw, seeking to make concrete the elusive essence of emotion, form and space. An array of mediums at my finger tips, pencil, pastel, ink and acrylic, all there in the service of my endeavours. The ‘Elektra’ series of Monoprints came about from this experience.
My work is an ongoing process of learning and discovery. Currently I am working on a series of paintings which are a response to this body of Monoprints.