Sussi Louise Smith is a Danish artist and poem painter, based in West Yorkshire. She paints everyday life in colourful naïvism. A vibrant celebration of everyday life and the hygge and grace it encompasses - the beauty lies in the detail. And in the hues. And in chocolate. There must always be chocolate. And Coffee. Possibly Bacon. Definitely Salty Liquorice
How would you describe your artistic practice?
Involuntary. I am laughing as I write it, because it is true. There was a period in the mid-nineties where I was doing really well financially from my art. Loads of commissions, articles about me, poster sales. Attention, in a good way. One would think. But it was not for me. I felt trapped. For me art was freedom. It was a way of speaking, saying what I couldn’t in daily conversations. So I Painted and Poeted. Yeah, that’s a thing. The verb of poetry.
However, when I became popular and the work pressures started to build, I felt I was at a cross-roads artistically. I packed away all my paints, canvasses, paper, notebooks, all of it, and promised myself not to paint or write for a year, 365 days. If at the end of it I had not missed it… then my since-birth feeling of being an artist had been a misunderstanding. But IF I had missed it, then my practice going forward would have to change dramatically. I would have to commit to my expression. Live my colours and words. Believe my questions.
So, how did it come to that? You might ask. But since you are here, reading Playful Being’s blog, you know the answer.
I had stopped playing. Or I had stopped playing enough. I don’t think I could ever stop playing, but back then, I was not playing enough.
Obviously, since we are having this conversation, I started my art life up again on day 366. It had been a hard year. The first few months I had felt relief but soon, I was spouting poetry and colours in my sleep. Speaking in lyrical tones in conversations, running my fingers over sculptures and painting as if to suck up their essence. It was torture. Necessary art celibacy.
So yes. My artistic practice is involuntary, it is an extension of me. I have no choice and that makes me happy in who I am. I am what I ‘Art’
What, for you, is the role of play in your artistic practice?
Oxygen. Without play, curiosity, challenges and experimentation my practice suffocates. Playing around is pivotal. HOWEVER, I recognise that people and organisations define play in different ways. Some say ‘A physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective'. Others are more ‘activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation’ in their definition. I am definitely in the latter category. I do not like or agree with the addition of ‘Has no other objective.’
I believe that play has evolving and ever-changing objectives. I was a qualified school teacher for a short number of years, and the role of play in learning, perhaps more so in Scandinavia, was absolutely key.
Later, I got my master’s in education and psychology and went on to work in staff development in academia, teaching teaching to university lecturers. Oh what grim joys I sometimes had. As an artist and an academic, I mixed my playful practices and the resistance amongst academics was often great to start with. They had forgotten how to play. Forgotten the importance of play for learning. For moving forward and excelling in one’s chosen fields. So yes. I played with fully grown professors, lecturers and teaching assistants and got paid for it. And I would paint, draw and collage with them, for them even at them I must admit. Why? Because I needed to be true to my artistic practice. I had promised myself. Plus, I find that art, play, poetry, educational psychology, quantum science, geography you name it. They are all sides of the same story. Play does not exist un-situated, it is context dependent, like everything else.
Play with others and play with landscapes, tools, materials, by oneself… are all part of the process.
How does taking a playful approach lead you to new discoveries or take you in different directions?
Play is a door into a secret garden of endless possibilities and solutions. The main difference between being in the garden and standing outside the door searching for the right key, is courage. And thinking patterns. Put very black and white, which I am not usually a fan of but for the purpose of simplicity, it is the difference between convergent thinking and divergent thinking. Thinking in conventional learnt ways or totally letting rip.
If I have a creative problem. Say I am doing a life-story painting of a long life. An elderly person who has had a rich life with tons of experiences that were important to them… how do I grasp the essence of their joy? Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes it is a spiritual journey and a battle with the ‘normal’ chronological and episode driven themes on the one side and the feelings, emotions and experiences on the other.
If it doesn’t flow … I play. I play with materials, I play with nature, I non-stop write and I retell the story as a fairytale or horrorshow, whatever is the OPPOSITE of where logic would take me normally. Breaking patterns is so important to unlock that door into the secret garden.
Click here for more about Sussi Louise and her art.