It was a huge privilege to be given a pod at the LAOTY semi final.
Even though I have lived in London for twenty two years, I had not visited the Thames barrier park before. It is a wonderfully open spot with clever planting and landscaping. A spot for contemplation and relaxing. You really feel like you've got away from it all, as it's so far away!
Ahead of painting there, I looked up the mechanics of the barrier and I was so impressed with the rotating gates and the engine houses constructed to power them. The engine houses themselves are clad in a silvery metal which changes with the light and reflects the weather and water around them. They were fascinating structures to paint.
The other artists were, like I was, supercharged from winning their own heats and raring to go. Whatever we did at the semi finals needed to echo our previous works and impress the judges further. To pull it out of the bag, risks needed to be taken: the challenge met head on, just enough to produce a successful painting and stand out from the rest.
My first thought was composition. I really wanted to anchor the engine houses onto the canvas and give a sense of space as well as bring in colour and a strong dynamic. Getting to grips with the structures was a priority. I chose first a 12" x 12" oil primed linen board so that I could get the drawing part right. The painting progressed quickly and the foreground started to take shape.
I toyed with the idea of adding in the handrail and including a figure. At one point, Kate Bryant leant on the rail in front of me which might have been a good addition to the foreground. See the photo that I took of her.
To avoid overworking the painting, I decided to stop and start a larger canvas to see if I could size up the subject. Going large freed up my brushstrokes and paint movement, introducing a fluid freedom to the marks. Having already got to grips with the shapes and structures in the small painting, I was far more confident in laying down the composition.
There wasn't enough time to finish the larger painting, so I decided to submit the smaller one, as it was complete, and I felt confident that it represented my approach and style.
Ultimately, the competition was high. I was intrigued to see how we had all interpreted the view and made it our own.
I learnt so many lessons, the most important being to push boundaries and park my comfort zones at a safe distance and push through to see what else I can achieve. In this instance perhaps if I had chosen a larger canvas on the outset, and used more luscious paint, I might have stood out amongst the other heat winners.
Despite not getting through to the final, I had a great day and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the other artists. It was exciting to watch the episode for the first time and it gave me a boost to hear what the judges had said about my work at the time.
In conversation with the other judges Tai Shan Sheerenberg said,
'The way the eye travels through the painting. It's all very well thought through and it works. But she's a colourist. I really like to see her use, to kind of push a bit further.'
'I love the way Susanna’s constructed the painting. That high horizon leads us very cleverly through that gap. But what I like are the colours and the light. I mean that green, it’s luminescent. You know there’s a deep pool of Thames there.
Kate Bryant said,
'She made a lovely decision early on which is to find a pathway through the barriers.'
'The sky is just gorgeous to look at and actually the Thames barriers themselves. The objects. I think they're the most compelling for me. I think they're absolutely fantastic.'
The judging process
Waiting for the results
Relaxing at the end of the day!