writing silence

The Art of Susan Michie
by Simon Lewty +


About two years ago, when I saw a drawing by Susan Michie at the house of a friend and knowing nothing about the artist or her work, the word which came spontaneously into my mind was ‘condensation’. It seemed to evoke the silent spreading of mist on a window pane.

"I believe that the value of artists is that they think about art ..."

A little later, Susan showed me one of her early notebooks, and it was a revelation to see how many of those ideas had originated in langauge. The rhythms and patterns of written words were present, but only as linear traces upon a surface, their signifying role had evaporated, along with their verbal content, leaving a residue of silenced writing, an abstraction of an abstraction. Then something quite remarkable happened. One day in her studio, while staring at the blank wall wondering where to go from here, a series of curious black shapes started to appear in front of her eyes as though on a screen. The images occurred on and off, over a period of about ten days. They were not immediately recognisable as anything in the outside world, but many seemed to resemble outside life forms: cells and protoza, amoebae or the bodies of primitive marine organisims.

Drawn in black felt-tip pen, these dense, shadowy forms lie isolated or in small groups on the white pages of the sketchbook, like laboratory specimens on a slide. They might be living things, fetile even, yet they have no internal organs. Or perhaps they are all internal organs - as if their inner and outer structures were somehow one and the same surface. So a garment of skin, which might at the same time be read as viscera, is woven in dense scribbles and swirls of black - a dark writing.