By Shu-Ju Wang

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Above, a corner of Susan’s studio with various complete and in-progress work.

Susan Gallacher-Turner is fascinated by shape-shifters. Characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, stories from Native American traditions, or even looking out the car window where faces appear in the distant hills and trees…these are all sources of inspiration for her boxes, repoussé work and aluminum window screening sculptures.

Susan is a bit of a shape-shifter herself…

Wait, did you say aluminum window screening?

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Yes. Lets talk about that, it is a bit unusual. Although Susan did not start out intending to create sculptures with aluminum window screening, she now does much of her work with that particular material. Previously, she had been working with beadwork and fabric and was trying to create a painted fabric piece that needed to be shaped and formed. After trying various methods, she hit upon the idea of using aluminum screening to shape the fabric and brought it in to consult with her sculpture instructor.

“Why are you bothering with the fabric?” was the instructor’s response.

Once Susan let go of the fabric, it all came together and she started working with the screening material more and more, and she hasn’t looked back.

One might call aluminum screening sculpture X-treme Handiwork. Instead of holding a silk handkerchief and slowly building an image thread by thread, Susan holds a giant piece of aluminum screen in her hands as she slowly and gently pushes into the material to create a form. There are no molds or drawings, she just holds the material in her hands and starts pushing. The nose comes first, but only barely at the beginning. The first round of ‘pushes’ creates the sketch, if you will. Once the sketching is complete, she then goes back and pushes again, to deepen the definition. The process is slow, as once done, it can not be undone; Susan is careful to not over-push it.

As she works, if appropriate, she also starts to shape the entire piece into a form that can stand up by itself. Again, all by pushing and shaping with her fingers. Slowly, the aluminum screening transforms into a human face, an eagle, a lion or a variety of other half animal, half plant creatures. Then Susan paints the sculpture. Coats and coats of paint are needed for the colors to finally built up and be visible on the mesh material. As she paints, she watches for where the material needs more definition and she returns to pushing again.

Back and forth, back and forth, until she’s satisfied with the form, the colors, and the balance. The standalone pieces stand up by themselves indoors; outdoors, they do need some support so that they don’t blow away.

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Now, where were we? Oh, yes.

Susan is a bit of a shape-shifter herself — she’s a professional writer, and for those long time readers of this blog, you know that she has contributed much to this forum; she’s also a sculptor of many different mediums, including clay, copper repoussé and, of course, aluminum screening.

To see Susan’s larger and smaller sculptures (many are jewelry pieces), visit her studio during Portland Open Studios on Oct 17 and 18, 2009. Susan is artist number 79 on the tour. You can see more of her work at her website at http://www.susangt.com/.

To learn more about Portland Open Studios, visit their website at http://www.portlandopenstudios.com/.

Below, top: Susan’s workbench where she works on her repoussé work. With the copper sheets, she does sketch first and follow the sketch; bottom: The Shape-shifter Polar Bear.
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