Susan Relph ASGFA has had two solo exhibitions at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey. This multiple portrait of Drew Hamilton-Black was in her most recent show at the school, and will be among the artworks Susan submits for DRAW 13, the Society’s 92nd annual exhibition from September 30th until October 12th 2013. Music is the optional theme. Susan explains how the portrait came about, and how the timing of her birth influenced her career as an artist.
“When I organise art events I like to have models who also play guitar, so that artists have both a model and music to draw by. This drawing resulted from several portrait sessions over many weeks, when the character of Drew’s hair changed dramatically from week to week. This provided an interesting challenge.
I should have been born in October, but I was delivered by emergency caesarian two months early, in August 1944 in Liverpool. The accident of my birth date was to have a profound impact on my art career.
My art education began in the final year of the long-established training tradition. It was a truly unique and pivotal year. I not only received the best of the old system, but also benefited from experiments in readiness for the new degree qualification — and from some benign neglect — all of which promoted confident individual creativity.
I had lived and was educated in Crosby, Lancashire, where Anthony Gormley’s “sculpture men” now walk into the sea. I attended Liverpool College of Art for five years from 1960, obtaining a National Diploma in Design and an Art Teaching Diploma. I started out in Graphic Design, but very quickly switched to Painting.
On reflection, my tutors must have anticipated extraordinary times ahead with the radical new degree system.
We had both “really old” men with white beards and shaky hands who would sit next to us and show us how to draw from a live model, and “middle aged” men straight from the Royal College of Art who brought elements of film and architecture into their teaching.
They dreamed up exercises and experiments, for example sending us out to measure up telephone boxes and draw them to scale. I think because of that unique combination, it all worked.
My tutors certainly provided everything necessary to establish a sound foundation of critical inquiry: working from life with in-depth analysis, justification of every mark, continuous investigation, searching beyond the obvious, simplification of the complex, and the benefits of the abstract. I was fortunate to receive an inspirational and flexible foundation of study that I treasure and aim to promote in every encounter.
In 1964 I was rejected by the Royal College of Art. I had submitted my best life drawings the year they removed life drawing from their syllabus. This rejection proved to be a very positive negative. It determined my creative future, provoking as it did my total independence from the art scene of the moment.
Initially I was employed in secondary school art teaching, where my more fractious teenaged pupils could sometimes be mesmerized by my “pot throwing”abilities. Then subsequent Adult Education art teaching in southwest Surrey provided an alternative, yet still stimulating, experience. I incorporated demonstrations wherever possible, eventually specializing in life and portrait classes, with an amalgam of interactive dialogue and fast drawing.
My work reflects my training, which encompasses traditional and contemporary ideas. I mainly work from life, studying nature and the manufactured, exploring the multiple avenues of investigation that prolonged study can provide. I search for the elusive, allowing corrections to lead me to new awareness. I enjoy the abstract journey and the alternative path.
I value the input of new thoughts and manoeuvres, risk taking, building upon mistakes, and harnessing and questioning all that has gone before. Integrity within every action has become a crucial aspect in my work, and I appreciate every opportunity to continue my journey of discovery begun nearly fifty years ago.”
Susan Relph ASGFA is on the Council of the Pastel Society. She has exhibited at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition and at the Mall Galleries in London with a number of art societies: the Pastel Society, the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour (RI), the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the New English Art Club, the Royal Society of British Artists and others. She was awarded the Debra Manifold Memorial Prize in the RI exhibition of 2006. Susan has had solo exhibitions at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Cobham, Surrey and the Thorndike Theatre in Leatherhead, Surrey.