WHEN I interviewed Susan Hall I discovered a woman who conveys her passion for the environment through her art.
She showed me images of birds' stomachs which had been opened out to show a scene as colourful as a handful of M&Ms but far more sinister. Inside these defenceless birds were remnants of the plastic rubbish thrown away by our society. The parent birds feed their chicks a concoction of fish and plastic – mistaken for fish. They suffer a painful death.
Yes, I was somewhat disturbed to see the images but I must say thought that this must be a rarity and probably served the birds right (and seagulls in particular) as they try to thieve my fish and chips when I sit on the San Remo foreshore.
But then I did a little more research. According to the UK’s Marine Conservation Society, a national environmental non-profit, more than a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals and sea turtles die globally each year from entanglement in, or ingestion of, plastics.
In Australia, I read, we use 10 million plastic bags a day (that's 3.9 billion plastic bags a year). “Farfetched,” I snorted. At least until I went to the local supermarket to buy "a couple of bits and pieces” for tea. A small handful of red bullseye chillies went into one plastic bag, another filled by a couple of capsicums. Then there was another for the zucchinis. The loaf of bread was already in a plastic bag and the rack of lamb had been cryovaced. On to the checkout where I put the vegetables in one plastic bag, the meat in another and the bread in another.
What was I doing?!?!
Susan has been aware of this trait of so many unwittingly creating a plastic soup of our oceans and means to draw attention to it through her art.
She had the classic upbringing of young girls of her age, doing needlework, sewing and home economics. She did art, but only in primary school, and was never particularly academically inclined. In fact she left school in form four and had three children by the time she was 23. At the age of 30, with the children already in high school, she wondered, “What am I going to do for the rest of my life?”
She took a copper-making class at Ringwood Tech and later learnt about etching and printmaking. She started painting soon after drawing and sketching for a while. She had some great mentors – Max Casey and David Taylor, both of whom had openings at the Hyatt, and whose paintings she could never afford. They were great evenings of art, food and people.
But she learnt a lot and during the `80s, sold many paintings and won a lot of prizes. She went on painting holidays with David Moore and on occasions would complete four small paintings a day. Some might only have taken her 30 minutes. She has painted en plein air on her many overseas trips. During those years she had many successful exhibitions. Of course she didn’t make enough money to make a living but at least it kept her in art materials.
Then she became interested in print making. After all, the old masters practised it and she thought that was where she wanted to head. She studied art and design at Swinburne College, majoring in printmaking.
During the 1980s and 90s, the Bass Coast Art Society invited Susan to do workshop demonstrations. She never dreamed that one day she would live on that beautiful coastline.
At the time she was living in the Yarra Valley and had upper respiratory problems due to the damp and the spores in the air. A naturopath suggested she move to the beach. She and her husband started to look around but she found the houses they looked at dark and uninspiring. Then they came across a block of land with an old cottage on it. She wondered aloud to her husband who had bought it. “We did,” he replied.
And so they moved into Inverloch and Susan built her dream studio. But it wasn't enough. She wanted to build on her knowledge. She built up a portfolio based on the beauty of the landscape and was accepted at Monash University to do a bachelor of visual and media art. She went on to complete a master of visual arts.
And then a wonderful opportunity presented itself. A Navaho Indian artist, Melanie Yahtzee, was doing a residency at Monash University. She was impressed with the works that Susan was doing on the theme of plastic in ocean. Susan was asked to present at a print symposium at Colorado University. She was terrified at first – but came to love the experience and the new-found friends she made. She has been invited back to exhibit there.
Nowadays the coast inspires her work. She loves to explore the coastline, documenting erosion and admiring the forces of nature that have carved designs in rock ledges over time. In her work she hopes to capture the feeling of the place. Patterns in the rock forms, tidal and beach tracks inspire her work.
She is a great believer that you are never too old and that age is no barrier. “I need to live until I’m 95, and even then I don’t think I’ll be able to do all that I want to do.”
She goes on to say, “When I look at the rubbish left on the beach I know that every single piece had an owner. And every single person can make a difference by making sure they take their rubbish with them when they leave the beach."
Susan is exhibiting her work jointly with John Mutsaers at ArtSpace Wonthaggi from February 11 to March 7. The official opening is from 2-4pm on Saturday, February 13.
Sue runs workshops in printmaking and occasional classes in painting for small groups in her studio. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.