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A debut show always sparks a tingle of excitement for us at Eames Fine Art. Hosting a brand-new talent brings with it the prospect of fresh ideas, exciting creative territories to map and a new mind to spar with. A debut show can also bring with it a degree of hesitancy and the odd nervous misstep. Of course, in the circumstances, this can be understood: the transition from artist’s studio to a public gallery can be daunting and frequently a first show is more about signposting future promise than celebrating current excellence.
Susie Stone demands no such indulgence from us. Here with Style in Colour, we are presented with a fully-formed artistic statement built on a concrete foundation of formidable technical skill. Susie is best known for her career in bespoke couture but her background is in fine art as signalled by a first-class degree in painting and sculpture. Susie is a fine artist who has forged a unique artistic voice through the rigours of a decade running a successful fashion business. The fruits of this rich hinterland are the paintings and prints that we have on display in the Print Room this summer.
Susie has always been a painter and has undertaken a sustained and deeply committed project to portray women – and they are always women – of strength, style, character and attitude. Colour, accessories and couture are fundamental to the images that Susie creates and of course, one would expect her to deploy them with a practised eye. There is evident delight in these elegant compositions of beautiful, beautifully dressed women but it would be a mistake to assume that these paintings are simply a celebration of style, of surface appearance. Susie reaches deeper to explore the vocabulary of fashion and how fashion is crucial to empowering the personality we project. Surface, yes, but not artifice.
When trying to get a handle on a new artist it is always useful to look for influences, connections to an artistic tradition to establish a direction of travel. The works of Alex Katz and Julian Opie felt like an obvious place to start, while the 18th Century woodblocks of Kitagawa Utamaro in the tradition of ‘Bijin Ōkubi-e’ (literally, large headed pictures of beautiful women) suggested a satisfyingly venerable source. Susie’s touchstones can be found elsewhere however in fashion illustration and contemporary portraiture, while the street photography of Bill Cunningham and the legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland loom particularly large. These have provided us with fascinating new avenues for investigation as well as serving as a useful reminder that inspiration can come from beyond the usual confines of art historical precedent.
As a counterpart to her paintings, Style in Colour sees Susie unveiling a new departure in her work: six editions of screenprints created in the spring of this year. We are, of course, delighted that Susie has been prepared to explore the rich possibilities of print and were confident that the core formal elements of her paintings – the compression of pictorial space, distillation of compositional elements and sophisticated use of colour would find exciting new expression in a different medium. Susie embarked upon her collaboration with Suki Hayes-Watkins at The Print Block in Whitstable with relish and the results are remarkably assured. Screenprinting is an exacting discipline at the best of times however when the process is conducted remotely over the phone and via Zoom video sessions, the potential pitfalls are obvious. Susie’s uncompromising professionalism and precise dressmaker’s eye for detail have stood her in good stead however. These six editions, her first foray into printmaking, are a considerable achievement. We hope that they receive the attention they deserve and mark the start of an exciting graphic career.
So, welcome Susie Stone. We are delighted and very proud to have your beautiful, celebratory and empowering works in display in the Print Room this summer. We are also excited at the prospect of a vivid and fresh artistic personality making its home here. I’m sure that this show will be the first of many.
Vincent Eames, August 2020