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Q&A with Award Winner Susan O’Neill

Susan O’Neill won the Anne Banks Collage Award this month for her work Connections, on display in The Art League Gallery as part of the “Earth” exhibit through April 30. We asked Susan to tell us more about this collage and her work in general.

What is the inspiration or idea behind Connections? What materials went into creating it?
Susan: I’m inspired by different cultures, relationships between people, nature, and the earth. How each are interrelated, and how they inspire and effect one another. The materials that went into creating the collage, Connections are from my travels, and the experiences and people in these places. My interest in collage began when I lived in Japan.

How do you think “Connections” fits into the “Earth” theme? What do you want the viewer to come away with?
I want to express the multiplicity of life, intermingling and supporting a new experience that offers unfamiliar combinations or connections to the viewer.

Connections by Susan O'Neill

As the winner of the Anne Banks Collage Award, why do you work in collage, or why did you choose to for this piece? Do you usually work in collage?
Currently, my main focus is the human figure. However, I find working in collage therapeutic and visually exciting so I’m always attracted to exploring this medium. During the last 2 years I completed two large collage commissions where I explored these same themes — earth, culture, and how they relate. This took my collage to a larger format and new materials which I would like to pursue. These commissions consisted of a triptych and a diptych. Connections was an opportunity to continue this theme.

Is this piece part of a series? If so, how did the series start, and how did it evolve to where it is now?
It is not part of a current series but an extension of a former series of collage that I created and exhibited while living in Japan.

While living in Japan, I was influenced by Japanese temples, specifically Senjafuda which are papers attached to the walls of temples in certain areas, layers upon layers of these papers. On these layers are written family names, prayers, and hopes which created a texture that has evolved for hundreds of years. I found this incredibly inspiring…like a living history of passing time connected and woven together into a timeless surface. The surface was highly textured, yet flat and difficult to distinguish the older layers from the more recent layers. That was very exciting.

This visual aspect of the Senjafuda combined with my experiences of the Japanese love of nature, earth and their place within it is endlessly inspiring to me. I’m fascinated with these connections between people, nature, and earth, and how each inspires or effects the other to create harmony. The Japanese have such a harmony with nature, being in tune with the earth.

What is your artistic process like?
In most cases my process is spontaneous.  I see relationships between color, texture, and rhythm which immediately inspires a composition.  Then I let the process evolve as I respond to each new element in the collage.  The collage or composition speaks to me, influencing a direction. I usually have an idea of what I want the focus to be; however, I like to be surprised by the course the collage takes, rather than plan it out completely.

Is there one technical element that is most important in your work, like color or composition?
Relationships between color, rhythm, and the push and pull of form are important to me. My primary focus is to explore how color creates light, form, movement, and texture, thus creating the illusion of a space with color alone. I am continually inspired by nature and life and how it reinforces these principles.

Where do you see your work going next, or what are you working on now?
What I’m learning in my study of the human figure enhances and alters my collage.

The basic principles of art apply throughout all mediums. I find inspiration in trying to cross over from one medium to another to experience how one influences the other.

You can read interviews with this month’s other award winners, and previous winners, here.

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