Q&A with Travers Smith's CSR Art Programme artist Susan Rocklin
Tell us a little about yourself
I was brought up by the sea and this has definitely influenced the nature of my work. My oil paintings have a characteristic openness and fluidity. Before training as a painter at the RCA I studied literature at university and worked as a writer in advertising, which also plays into my painting, where words and narratives always float beneath the painted surface. Hence, I see painting as the natural continuum of my former career as a writer. Even prior to formal study at Wimbledon College of Art and the RCA, I always ‘felt’ things like a painter - colour, shape, line, the way scenes are composed. It is a strong instinct that’s now finding expression.
Tell us a little about your work
The materiality of my work is critical to its meaning. Thin washes of oil paint are built up over canvases to create shifting atmospheres. I’m interested in saying something about the fragility and mutability of the world. Everything moves and changes; I am merely trying to capture fleeting fragments of significance. Stories - little dramatic episodes - are often depicted in my paintings. But my intention is not to achieve any form of resolution. I am fascinated by traditional Chinese and Japanese paintings, where space is just as important as objects and where the Taoist ideals of endless flow and balance are explored. The main subjects of my work are women, children, animals and cowboys and I always seem to be searching for alternative forms of paradise, with hints of the absurd and wistful.
How did it feel to be selected to take part in the CSR Art Programme?
I was delighted to be selected for both the 2019 and 2021 programmes. It is great to have work endorsed and installed in the real world over a long period, where a wide variety of people can appreciate it. It’s a massive confidence boost. Many of my paintings are extremely large and lend themselves to being seen in more spacious corporate settings! I hope they bring pleasure and give pause for thought. It is good also to be in the company of fellow artists, who are of a high calibre - to be part of a really excellent initiative, where so many individuals benefit. Artists starting out need all the support they can get. The CSR Art Programme is a great example of this.
How do you think being featured will help you in your future career?
On a practical level it is incredibly useful. I have attended several seminars hosted by the firm on legal issues affecting artists and to how to navigate the art world and was able to use this to good effect when negotiating contracts with a gallery.
The exposure - my paintings being seen in a prestigious environment - is fantastic. There are lots of publicity opportunities too via Instagram and also my website. Building a career in art is a long haul and it’s the cumulative effect of endorsement, visibility and getting good opportunities to network early on, that makes the difference.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I’ve had two solo shows and several group shows since graduating in 2019 and have sold a good number of paintings. Some of my larger work is currently on loan in corporate collections. Also, I’ve just made the shortlist of a competition. Now comes a period of consolidation and intensive painting. My priority over the next six months is to make a new body of work - paintings of varying sizes. For the moment I’m not working with any gallery because I need to pursue what interests me, rather than keep producing work to order. This is perhaps a risky move, but I feel the right one, as I have some new ideas to experiment with. I will be hard at work in my studio over the winter and hope to emerge in spring with some fresh and interesting paintings to show!
Susan was one of our 2021-22 artists. Read about more of our Art Programme artists here.