She dreamed of a fairyland when she was a child:playing in the woods behind her family house, she named all the trees and dens, merged into her world of magic and imagined herself to be a princess. Now at the age of 36, Su Blackwell has created her own miniature fairyland out of books and brought it back to her hometown in Sheffield this weekend.
Vintage books are Blackwell’s necessity for art. She digs them out of dust,takes them back home, reads them, and brings the story back to life by building magical 3D images out of the pages and spine.
“I always loved reading, specifically Alice in Wonderland and Secret Garden, and I’ve vivid memories of reading and losing myself in the stories for the child”, said Blackwell.
Her first book sculpture was made from an old “the Quiet American” by Graham Greene. She found the book in a century-old second-hand bookstore in a century-old ally in Thailand. That year, Blackwell’s father died, she left college and started her journey of contemplation for life and death. Her encounter with the old war-time story set in Vietnam intrigued her interest in the beauty of impermanence and decay.
Talking about her early work, Blackwell said: “I started off on textiles and doing embroidery, I was interested in making the invisible visible, and things about spirituality. I made a piece that had word on each surfaces of a box but you could only read them if you shone light through it, so it was kind of exploring these transient things. I was interested in impermanent things and materials that would decay. That was why I started using paper.”
In 2010, commissioned by the Bronte Parsonage Museum, Blackwell created the “Remenants”, a paper illustrated of life and work of the Brontes.
“I spent quite a long time walking around and sitting with the supposedly ‘haunted house’, but to be honest I didn’t feel any of those ghostly happening it seemed like a very calm house. But I did want to make reference to the history of objects of the Brontes, so I sort of played with the idea of ‘the house being haunted’ and put my works in the context. For example, one of the sculpture seemed to be only an open book. But I put a motor in the book, so it turned the page automatically. You could be looking at it and suddenly the page would turn. That had some mixed reactions: And some Japanese tourists ran out screaming”, laughed Blackwell.
For Blackwell, paper is a definite enjoyment, fairly tales and folklores are powerful inspirations.
At the same time, she created many commercial work for companies such as British Airway and Volvo.
“I set up the studio to work on the commercial work, and I keep the fine art practice going on. They kind of feed in one another and sometimes there’s a crossover. But it is important to have time in the studio on my own for at least one or two days. When the commercial works come in–the deadlines are usually very short, and they are not one after another, I usually have the gap in between where i focus on my own work. so they run side by side”, said Blackwell.
The artist is now working on an exhibition in Chatsworth House.