Susan Gunn: Exhibition Review

This work is swamped in contrasts and juxtapositions, from history to modernity, strict processes and accidents, formal geometric shapes to free-flowing lines. Susan Gunn’s work encompasses all of the above and then some. We met at Home MCR where Susan Gunn’s exhibition ‘Ground Evolution’ is currently on display and chatted about her work and the story behind it.

Her pieces are like nothing I have ever seen before, and the process that Susan undergoes to create them is like nothing I have ever heard before. It all sounds like a science lesson rather than a chat about art. When Susan lists the materials in the work, we’re talking gesso, calcium carbonate, rabbit skin glue (not actually made from rabbit skin), pigments and sediments, I am reverted back to being 15 years old and trying to blag my way through a science lesson at high school!

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However, all the processes and materials create these unusual and unique pieces of art. What comes across as a very regimented process, actually creates random results. When viewing ‘Ground Memorial Study I & II’, we see how Susan has no control over how these pieces will look, the cracks are organically created in the drying of the work, they are ‘happy accidents’ as Bob Ross would say. This means every piece created is different, it has its own look and personality. Her work is organic, both in the sense that it is all ethically sourced and made from the earth’s material, but in that the way it is created, the work is free to crack and split as it wishes. Yet as another contrast, it is set on canvas, restricted by the size and shape the board.

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The process of using this gesso on stretched canvas comes from a historic technique that was used by the greats, Leonardo Da Vinci and Michael Angelo etc. Back then, any cracks in the canvas were seen as a defect. Susan flips this on its head and embraces the cracks, polishing them and setting them ready for display.

Susan calls her work paintings, but no ‘paint’ is used. So this got me thinking, what is painting? In the traditional sense I guess it is a paintbrush and paint. Google says ‘the action or skill of using paint, either in a picture or as decoration.’ So we discussed if they should be called sculptures. But what is a sculpture? Google has all the answers – ‘the art of making two or three-dimensional representative or abstract forms, especially by carving stone or wood or by casting metal or plaster.’ So I guess, depending on which piece of work you are looking at of Susan’s, you could use either, or both!

We talked about how it seems that painting is dead, this is definitely something I have noticed more and more. I feel like recent exhibitions have very much been about ‘modern art.’ I mean that in the sense that there are hardly any paintings, instead it’s all digital art, videos and sound pieces, which I find slightly odd, that paintings are a minority.

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Anyway, I digress. In Home’s Granada Foundation Gallery 1, the triptych named ‘Ground M3 3GS’ dominates the wall opposite as you exit from the lift. These humongous and heavy pieces of concrete, that we usually look down to, towers above you, looking down on you instead. The work is monumental, both because of the sheer size and weight of the pieces, but in terms of historically too. The earth used to create these pieces was taken from the Old Granada Studios grounds – hence the post code in the name, which are soon to become the home of Factory in 2020. This is a huge turning point, as it promises so much for Manchester and our art scene. That is what Susan tries to encompass in her work. This triptych is a way of linking the past, present and future of the Old Granada Studios. The idea for this piece came for the ‘Ground Breaking’ event, where representatives from MIF, Manchester Council and Arts Council gathered to commemorate the build of Factory, where they literally broke the ground to mark the occasion.

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We talked about the words ‘ground-breaking’, and ‘land-mark’ and all this ties in perfectly with her work here. There is of course the literal act of ground breaking – Susan collected the earth from Granada Studios to process and create the triptych. Then, the build of Factory, again, breaking the ground of what was there to build this new (and in the other term) ground-breaking building that will be such a huge impact on Manchester’s skyline. This building is due to be a new ‘land-mark’.

When we spoke to Susan about Manchester as whole, I couldn’t help feel like Susan was a little worried, maybe even scared, about what’s to come. She is currently in the process of trying to find a new studio after being handed her notice to leave Art Atelier. She says she is one of the lucky ones however, as she is making a career from her work, but there are so many struggling artists out there that are still trying to make it. Yet, she says Manchester is on the cusp of big changes. I’ve already mentioned Factory a million times,  but there are a ton of new art groups and blogs coming through (cough cough). There are so many new possibilities, Manchester is at a pivotal point. Susan also used the word ‘passionate’ when describing Manchester and I stand by that. I think in everything we do, Manchester people are passionate people.

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This exhibition has left me wanting more. Knowing that each piece of art she creates is different. with so many contrasts surrounding the work, and brand new techniques I have never heard of before, I want to see and learn more. The work up at Home MCR just isn’t enough to satisfy me! I think she deserves a bigger space, based on the pieces here, I know she could fill it. Image a whole wall covered in one continuous piece? Now we’re talking!

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Susan’s exhibition is on at Home MCR till 1st July.

Find out more about Susan Gunn on her website.

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