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Sue Guthrie

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Celebrated contemporary abstract artist, Sue Guthrie enjoyed something of an idyllic childhood, as do many artists, who benefit nothing but joyous memories of a youth well spent. But then when you’re brought up in a small village in the heart of rural Buckinghamshire surrounded by fields and woods and afforded freedom to roam, explore and to discover at every turn, then it would be, wouldn’t it? The only break in this perfect childhood vista was when Guthrie’s family upped sticks and moved to Essex; itself another fine county, where more of the same childhood adventures were played out. Formative year’s fun dispensed with – and down to the serious business of career options/life plans – and Guthrie decided to enrol on an art foundation course, so as to dip her toes in as many creative disciplines as possible from the outset. Around this same time Guthrie was exposed to the many compositional marvels and art installation splendours of The Tate Modern, located on London’s South Bank; and what materialises as Guthrie’s first taste of an art gallery.

Back in the (further education) classroom however – and having been inspired by what she witnessed at The Tate - and Guthrie let her imagination run wild, as she describes her foundation course as a latter years equivalent of play school; on account of the huge amount of fun she had within this freedom-encouraging environ. Due to what Guthrie readily describes as her shyness back then, her tutors suggested that Leicester Uni would be the ideal next port of call on her artistic education odyssey. A conclusion arrived at simply because that establishment had a policy of attracting and accepting the less extrovert – yet equally if not more talented – students. Going on to gain a place at Leicester, Guthrie threw herself into her studies and recalls having a great time, where she was able to work with many media and methods. One such project brief she remembers being involved in was the design and construction of a raft and to install a painting partially submerged under a canal bridge, bizarre as that may well sound. Of course Guthrie rose to the challenge, graduated and began to put into place her future career plans thereafter.

Relocation called again on completion of her studies in the east Midlands, and Guthrie headed due south by south-east and returned to her native Essex; although landed in Colchester as it happened. Securing her first studio space, Guthrie successfully negotiated the second studio in a converted apple barn, which formed part of a working pig farm. Again, sounding as idyllic as it gets, Guthrie’s new artistic bolt-hole also presented her with inspirational views toward the distant coastline. Anyway, local geography aside – although maintaining a tenuous teaching tip – Guthrie tried her hand at teaching during this period, alongside of her art, but soon realised it wasn’t really her bag, so instead focussed her attentions on her freelance work and lining up exhibition time, space and location. Location. Location.

Soon after Guthrie decided her best plan of action would be to return to higher education with a view to gaining her MA. Which she promptly did, opting for Birmingham as her favoured destination. In the direct aftermath of securing her qualification, Guthrie concentrated on her freelance work and specialised in the area of mural origination and creation, a genre she absolutely loved. Circumnavigating the UK to paint huge murals for hotel, bar and nightclub clients, Guthrie immersed herself in the absolute diversity of it all. Speaking of her experiences at the time, she recounts one week painting classical figures for example on the one client’s premises, whilst the following week she’d be tasked with forging imaginary U.V landscapes. This whole period was a steep learning curve for a creativity-hungry and thoroughly absorbent Guthrie, eager to extend her knowledge base and skillset across the artistic board. In the artist’s own words, she says; “One day I arrived on a building site with a spray gun and a compressor (watched by 10+ builders) and not a clue how they worked,” adding: “Needless to say I learned a lot during that time, including how to erect scaffolding and operate a scissor lift”.

The appeal/novelty of constantly being on the road and pitching up at random B+B’s soon wore off though, and Guthrie jacked it in and looked to collaborating with a good friend on a new creative venture. They produced paintings to commission and got to work on some really exciting projects for corporate offices and many of the major bar and hotel chains. Admitting that it was hard work from the off, Guthrie really enjoyed this new challenge. Eventually though – and due to the fact that most of the installations they produced were sizeable numbers which necessitated a lot of physical endeavour – she downsized her ambitions somewhat; and moreover in relation to her new found position as an expectant mother. Once her daughter was born, Guthrie worked solely on a more manageable scale and from her home studio.

Looking to what makes Guthrie tick as an artist and it’s difficult to stereotype or pigeon-hole her approach or style for that matter. Guthrie concedes that she draws on all manner of experiences when painting; emotional, visual and the physical, and that randomness in nature is the one common denominator which has always fascinated her. Elaborating on this she states an inherent interest in the way things cluster and spread, and specifically the fashion in which groupings and individual subject matters relate, interact and connect with one another on a number of compositional levels.

Based today in Edgbaston in Birmingham, Guthrie is as comfortable living the suburban life as much as the rural one which shaped her formative years, and states how the horizontal and verticals indicative of the built environment are recently having a huge impact on her new visual direction and design language as such. Guthrie offers; “My antidote to this, however, is just around the corner and I spend a lot of time wondering around Edgbaston reservoir. The way that we experience nature also impacts on my work, and I have become increasingly aware of the frequency with which I am viewing the open landscape from my car. Impressions of speed and nostalgia for the time when I grew up may also be attributable to this”.

Guthrie concedes that she typically has several paintings on the go at any one time, as this tends to be the way she works best, and ensures that her impatience doesn’t ruin an individual piece. Guthrie’s paintings tend to be constructed in layers which bring a richness and depth to the work, with acrylics being Guthrie’s weapon of artistic choice historically, decreeing that she simply doesn’t have the tolerance to work in oils. Visual references come courtesy of Guthrie’s own photographs, and she’ll often mock up her larger scale pieces on the computer first to avoid any potential mistakes being transferred in the illustrative reality. This in turn can be a great source of inspiration to Guthrie, but she’s quick to stress that nothing can replace the physical presence of paint or the joy of mixing colour.