Susan Ashworth was born on the Isle of Portland in Dorset and grew up in a landscape of stone quarries, cliffs and wide views across field and scrub to open sea. Having studied Fine Art in Falmouth, Cornwall, she has continued to live on the South Coast, seeking out its remoter corners and open spaces for her work.
Long walks taking photos provide starting points for landscape paintings which emphasise both the empty quality of our managed countryside and our dislocated perception of it. Shadows across a field, a lighthouse on a concrete jetty, an uncertain skyline through bare branches appear glimpsed from a speeding train or shot from a panning camera: improvised reminders of the way we see the world in the twenty first century.
Susan Ashworth’s interest in the tabletop images of Diebenkorn, Nicholson and Letinsky is reflected in the current still lifes. These are also, in essence, landscapes: oblique light picking out objects effectively dwarfed in expanses of empty space. A lemon, a half-empty tea-cup, fishbones on a plate… what we see are familiar items estranged then seen afresh
The handling of the paint in Susan Ashworth’s work explores these dynamics of seeing and representing, with constant play between the flat surface and the illusion of depth and solidity. All kinds of process - simultaneous work on different paintings, widely varied consistencies and applications of paint, rotation of the surface being worked, layering, sanding and scraping - allow accident its shaping role, ‘letting the paint do the work!’ The resulting pictures show things caught at the very moment of appearance, as thin wavering crystallisations from a quiet shimmer of paint.
There is a certain melancholia in the paintings. They are subtly elegiac in their suggestion of what is missing - a human presence that has just passed out of view.
All the same, there is no denying the joy in this work, and a certain wild freedom. A sober depiction of ordered countryside or domestic minutiae will slide off the deep end into swathes and splatters of untied colour, yet the balance holds. This is the freedom of the instant before the brain categorises what is exposed to the eye. It is this freedom that the paintings of Susan Ashworth celebrate.
Without fuss or fanfare, they renew for us the surprise of seeing.
Jamie Crawford June 2008