Susan O’Doherty was born in Brisbane, Queensland, the third of four children. Her father was an officer in the Australian Army, which meant the family were constantly on the move, interstate and overseas. After completing school in Sydney, Susan trained as a make-up and prosthetics artist and worked in theatre and film where her interest in the visual arts took hold.
Learning to paint as a young mother of two children, her work evolved and developed and she began constructing mixed media assemblages and sculptures incorporating a wide range of familiar found objects: furniture parts, kitchen implements, glass, china, metal, wood, plastic, textiles and ceramics set within wood framed boxes, composed to convey harmony, dissonance or something intangible in between. Her painting continued in tandem, complementing the assemblages – both mediums have repeated painted patterns denoting the repetition of time, with overlapping themes and subjects focusing both on motherhood and domestic identity and on political, gender, social and environmental issues.
O’Doherty has exhibited widely throughout Australia with work relating to these themes. A recent body of work ‘Pinned to the Wall’, looking at sexual politics, domestic violence and consumerism was exhibited at the Lost Ones Gallery Ballarat, Spot81 Sydney and Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery in 2016/17 .
In NSW and Queensland 2014-17, Susan and her artist husband Peter O’Doherty collaborated on a major Regional Gallery Touring Exhibition ‘Moving House’, combining her assemblages depicting various rooms of the house and his canvases of external suburban house facades. The two were also included in the Maitland Regional Gallery touring exhibition ‘In(two)art’ featuring work by Australian artist couples.
Susan O’Doherty’s exhibition of 450 painted portraits of visual arts practitioners ‘900 Eyes, Domestic Lives’ was exhibited in 2008-9 at Manly, Tweed River and Maitland regional galleries. In 2009 she participated in Macquarie University Gallery’s ‘Reimag(in)ing SomaSex’ and in ‘Diarama’ at Wollongong Art Gallery in 2013.
Marking the centenary of the Anzac Gallipoli landing, Susan participated in 2015-16 in commemorative exhibitions ‘Contemporary Gallipoli’, ‘Your Friend the Enemy’ and ‘Wept, Wait and Be Worthy’ at Macquarie University Gallery, S.H. Ervin Gallery and regional galleries in Bathurst, Goulburn, Cowra, Hawkesbury and Grafton.
In late 2017 she completed a two month residency at NG Art Creative Residency in Eygalieres, Provence France where she exhibited a series of paintings for the studio exhibition ‘Hunting Season’.
O’Doherty has exhibited in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, regional Australia and New Zealand. She has been selected for numerous art prizes and is in collections including City of Sydney, Smorgon Collection, Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, NERAM (Armidale), Cowra Regional Art Gallery, Wollongong Art Gallery and Max Watters Collection (in conjunction with Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre).
A Poetic Thrift
Assemblages and constructions, are at the centre of Susan O’Doherty’s practice. Wooden boxes, capsules and wall pieces reconfigured with ready-made objects and items scavenged are collected and associatively re-presented. The placement of these objects tell new stories and form new visual images. As the artist states her themes relate to trans gender issues, social equality, the passing of time, the ethereal nature of time, recollections, experiences – lives lived and awareness of mortality.’
Susan O’Doherty’s work presents an allusive circuitry of recollection and connection, of collection and re-connection. As Bakelite dominoes remind us of childhood and old age games memories unite and implicitly combine in this literal pastime to punctuate our sense of searching for a lost time. These, and similarly the other identifiable objects, remind us of lost experience and of a conditional urge to attempt to piece these sensations information back together. Another means of marking time, with our predilection for measurement, for comparability, for observation and record.
Her work connecst to an extensive tradition of women artists using the ready-made to forge potent association, from Meret Oppenheim to Sarah Lucas; and also something of the confessional. A consistent thematic is elicited through these diminutive and portable tableaux, conveying a direct and vivid presence through their sense of miniaturised and domestic theatre. The associations of poetry and music that permeate the earlier work continue from her previous exhibitions, A Perfect Woman to It’s a Man’s World, and facilitate a further layer of reading and association that punctuates the experience of time passing and facilitate recollection.
These diorama-like passages of time present a clash of quantitative and qualitative information that bridge a need to integrate experiences, to demonstrate an understanding in these assembled vignettes of incident, re-enactment and embodiment. A piecing together of signs to reinforce or re-engage with the present. This is an artistic practice by which ecological and ethical concerns are realised through a constructed commentary and association. Susan O’ Doherty crafts new from the old, pours tenderness and empathy on the discarded and abandoned, and seeks to revive and regenerate once-loved, once-essential items of the past. Her thrift aesthetic conveys something more pressing about our paradoxical time than each piece in isolation, as she persistently roves and gleans in pursuit of creatively imbuing new life and meaning, and embracing the past within the present.
“Thrift is the really romantic thing: economy is more romantic than extravagance…thrift is poetic because it is creative…” (G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World)
Professor Anita Taylor