Born in Brisbane, Queensland in 1960, Susan O’Doherty has exhibited in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and New Zealand. Central to Susan’s art practice are her mixed media assemblages and constructions which, apart from social issues, deal in her own words with the ethereal nature of time, recollections, experiences, lives lived and an awareness of mortality. Her three dimensional wall pieces assimilate a wide range of familiar found objects and implements. These reconfigured assemblages incorporate glass, metal, wood, plastic, textiles, and ceramics within constructed and painted structures. Susan is also a painter. Her paintings range from domestic interiors to landscapes and portraits.
Recent solo shows The Perfect Woman, It’s a Man’s World and The Nature of Time examine identity and gender issues. A major touring exhibition of her work was the project 900 Eyes, Domestic Lives, where 450 painted portraits of visual arts practitioners hung in large format panels were exhibited in 2008 at Manly Art Gallery and Museum and in 2009 at Tweed River Art Gallery and Maitland Regional Art Gallery. In 2009 she participated in Macquarie University Gallery’s Reimag(in)ing SomaSex, an exhibition dealing with trans gender themes. In 2013 Susan created a window display in Diorama, a group exhibition at Wollongong Art Gallery using the language of the diorama to explore real or imaginary environments. Her work has been included in many other group shows and art prizes.
Commencing at Cowra Regional Art Gallery in 2014 and running in NSW, Queensland and Victoria until 2017, Susan has a collaborative touring regional gallery exhibition Moving House with her artist husband Peter O’Doherty, combining her assemblages depicting various rooms of the house and his canvases of external suburban house facades.
To mark the centenary of the Anzac Gallipoli landing, Susan participated in 2015 and 2016 in commemorative exhibitions Contemporary Gallipoli, at Macquarie University Gallery and Grafton Regional Art Gallery, and Your Friend the Enemy at the S.H. Ervin Gallery Sydney and regional galleries in Bathurst, Goulburn and Cowra. Also in 2016, her WW1 themed work is included in Wept, Wait and be Worthy at the Hawkesbury Regional Gallery Windsor.
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