“I make thin mixtures of pale colour which I pour onto a painting. I then tilt the picture in a certain direction or blow the paint with a hairdryer. This creates a veil of flooding or bursting light which can curdle or erase the objects it encounters.”
Susie Hamilton is an artist who works from her studio in Stepney, East London. She is known for making paintings, drawings and monotypes which often focus on the human figure in a wilderness. Hamilton also frequently works with Hospital Rooms, who an arts mental health charity, painting large murals in mental health units to bring an experience of art into these challenging spaces.
She’s used Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic for many years, combined with inventive techniques to achieve her unique style.
Left: Moonlit Beach, stage 1, acrylic on paper, 30x30 cm, 2022
Right: Berck-Plage, stage 1, acrylic on paper, 30x30 cm, 2022
I’ve used acrylic since I became an artist in 1993. I was advised to use it by a tutor at art school and I subsequently discovered that its fluidity and translucency suit my exploration of subjects, ideas and emotions. Much of my work is concerned with bright light which eats into contours and alters things in its path. To depict this, I make thin mixtures of pale colour which I pour onto a painting. I then tilt the picture in a certain direction or blow the paint with a hairdryer. This creates a veil of flooding or bursting light which can curdle or erase the objects it encounters. This effect appeals to me since, more generally, I like establishing structure which I then demolish, cancelling boundaries and disfiguring figures with pools of paint. I like working like this in layers and the quick-drying quality of acrylic, used on its own without needing the addition of a medium, means that I can work without delay.
Left: Berck Plage, acrylic on paper, 30x30 cm, 2022
Right: Moonlit Beach, acrylic on paper, 30x30 cm, 2022
This technique is evident in my 1999 paintings of spectral figures floated on black backgrounds. They are like X-rays, made of translucent ‘films’ of white acrylic which suggest a body physically changing or, as X-rays of emotion, an outburst of unconfined feelings. They were shown in St Giles Cripplegate Church in London and in such a context they suggested either bodies in decay or resurrected spirits. Either way they depict figures undergoing radical metamorphosis and they made me increasingly aware of a collaboration between flowing acrylic and my desire to paint metamorphosis in landscapes and in people.
Left: ‘Rider’, 132x132 cm, acrylic on canvas, 2013
Right: ‘Sami’, acrylic on canvas, 100x100 cm, 2018
Such landscapes include my ‘Flamboyant Jungle’ series, large paintings of rainforests which demonstrate my favourite palette of sour, cool tints (pink, emerald, lemon and turquoise). In these a tiny monkey is surrounded by giant, evolving forms of plants which seem to merge and morph and melt through the use of streaming colours amongst sharper shapes. Then, combining the human figure with this kind of landscape, I made sequences of paintings inspired by poetry. One of these is based on Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ and another on the poems of Andrew Marvell. My Ovid series is a riot of figures and nature, interconnected in Bacchanalian revelry through my techniques of layers and dilution, while Marvell’s poetry, also concerned with metamorphosis, triggered my new motif of the magnified cell. Marvell refers to microscopy and my Marvell works depict figures in gardens in which hover cellular globes, made by dropping a solution of washing-up liquid into a wet acrylic surface so that the paint blooms into complex, cell-like shapes.
Left: Violet Dining Room’, acrylic on canvas, 50x50 cm, 2005
Right: ‘Jabberwocky’, acrylic on canvas, 182x182 cm, 2008
These cell motifs have become a recurring part of my painting. For example, in my ‘Beach’ and ‘Dining Room’ series grotesque figures sprawl or dine beneath dark skies in which expanded nuclei represent an unfamiliar reality encroaching on the known and familiar scene. And, coming right up to date, they are part of my Covid 19 paintings in which viral circles threaten nurses, doctors and patients. Such works, begun in 2020 under lockdown, make use of my painterly methods developed over the years, the streams of light emanating from doctors or illuminating their clinical settings of cold neon, the struggling patient reduced to a mutating, messy shape on a bed, and the whole, frightening environment overlaid with acrylic blots or veils of infection.