My Inspiration: Susan Ann Loughlin | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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A brand-new contemporary art exhibition, SR1 Residency – will be taking over Sunderland Culture’s pop-up gallery space at Mackie’s Corner in Sunderland this July exploring responses to the city’s Pink Lustreware heritage.

SR1 Residency is the culmination of a successful nine-month programme, produced by independent curator Vincent Todd, and features the work of two emerging local artists – Sue Loughlin and Claire Todd.  Selected by a panel of experts, Sue and Claire spent nine months creating pieces of contemporary art about Sunderland’s heritage, focusing on the theme of Pink Lustreware, which was once a major industry in the city.

Sunderland-born artist Sue Loughlin, utilises a multidisciplinary approach in the exploration of abstract forms and her work is often inspired by the industrial legacy of the North East. Here, she tells us the inspiration behind her current exhibition. Body of Work: A response to Sunderland’s Pink Lustreware Ceramics.

My work is often inspired by the industrial legacy of the North East of England, oral histories of the region and my family background. I’m particularly interested in issues surrounding class and, as a result, the impact that exploitative patriarchal structures have upon the workforce. Socio-economic, environmental and political concerns are explored through painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and immersive installation.

I enjoy the physicality of both the processes and materials I select. Favouring a hands-on approach to making, I self-fabricate the vast majority of my work, predominantly using analogue formats. I particularly like to work on a large scale, producing works which are capable of dominating and encompassing the viewer.

Most recently, I have undertaken a residency responding to the early ceramics industry in the North East. Body of Work, 2019 utilise the decorative frivolity of Sunderland’s Pink Lustreware pottery to reflect the psychological and physical impacts of labour within potteries in the 1800s. 

The manufacture of ceramics at the time was extremely perilous and labour intensive. In the production of the Lustreware, workers, including young children, were exposed to horrific working conditions. The toll upon the workforce was great. Yet, the Lustreware itself has a visual appeal which belies the method of its making. These ceramics are characterised by their highly distinctive feminine pinks, fanciful decoration and anecdotal statements. My work has developed in response to these contrasting aspects and attempts to capture the human story behind the production of these ceramics.

The role of women within the potteries has been an enduring theme. Women and young girls were most often those responsible for the aesthetic qualities of the Lustreware, tasked as they were with decorating the surfaces. The erratic bleeding stains, loose brush work and striking pallet of the ceramics have heavily influenced the formal aspects of my work. A number of pieces have been created in response to first hand accounts of workers lives. In 1843 Samuel Scriven recorded the impact upon women’s lives and health. Forms and surfaces within the work become symbolic of chronic physical duress and the tragedy of forced maternal failings. The use of repetitive circular rhythms, reference the monotony of the ceramic making process and the constant turning of the potter’s wheel, which was powered by the physical exertion of a labourer. The labourer turned the drive wheel at the behest of the craftsman becoming the engine of the throwing process. This notion of the female body as machine, a soft, fallible and ultimately disposable machine, underpins much of Body of Work, 2019.

Sue’s Body of Work: A response to Sunderland’s Pink Lustreware Ceramics exhibition is open: 10.30am-2pm on 26th & 27th July.

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