by Simon Lewty
What follows is a response to a single drawing by Susan Michie which I have owned for several years. I have tried to keep to the one work (more or less) – a difficult task! But very rewarding, as the drawing is here on my wall, so I may return to it whenever my inspiration flags, or I am tempted to generalize. Perhaps these are not true aphorisms at all, and they certainly are full of paradoxes which seem to play an essential part of thinking about art and practising it. And part of the fun of playing with ideas. Art can bring Joy, and this picture has brought me great joy…so these aphorisms are written in a positive and speculative spirit. They are based on jottings culled from notebooks made over the last two or three years.
Spring afternoon. ‘It all begins with looking’. And now I am looking at a beautiful small pencil study, scarcely larger than the palm of a hand – horizontal rows of tiny dots repeated in various pressures, and slightly different sizes, on a white gesso panel. These dots have not yet become lines. A sequence of dotted lines? Yet here they insist on their dot-identity. Varying from a larger blacker definition to a tiny, barely visible grey. The dots are a beginning – which is always repeating itself, coming back to the beginning. I find this self-contained surface completely satisfying. It points to nothing beyond itself. It doesn’t need to be ‘made into’ anything else – nothing to ‘interpret’! So easy – and so difficult. Very calm – and very wild.
I am trying to remember an obscure poem about the cry of a mountain bird by W.H.Boore.
The speechless austerity of a bird who gives a single call across the upland moors. ‘No choral part but a whip of sound/on the crawling water … Very simple and very complex – paradox again.’
Seeing begins, and then ends when I look away – but leaves a residue. An image has settled in the mind.
The dots – smallest modules – barely attached to each other to make the earliest structures, and here, although in close sequence, they are in fact separate. They seem to move in a simple walk or a primal, formal dance. I could read this drawing as a grid, but I don’t. Perhaps it is because the horizontal progression is what I ‘read’ in the horizontal picture. Although I know the vertical is there, it is not emphasized. This drawing is like a primitive notation of a time – each dot the tiniest commemoration of a unique ‘here’ and ‘now’. The elegant economy of these pencil structures.
Is proliferation the only law these dots know? Not entirely: their rhythms and repetitions are two laws of their progress – perhaps linearity is another. Their to and fro movement sets up a rhythm on the surface between the dots and the spaces between them into which they move. A setting out which is a constant renewal.
Microcosm of her practice and vision.
I have spent much time looking at it. So near to nothingness, its whiteness rhymes with the whiteness of the wall. Its beauty is serene and sometimes I need that serenity. The rows of dots are very slightly uneven, and they rise and fall as I gaze at them, like the rhythm of calm breathing. Yet I know there is something more – this peaceful surface conceals a turbulence: as the roots of a water lily may carry on their invisible life below the surface of the water. Unseen stirrings in sediment.
Paths that can touch on worlds of sun, wind and rain, skin, bone – their light and sounds. The finding of the offerings of these remote places.
I realize for the first time that this drawing has no title, as far as I know. How little I need one! Susan’s work is done intuitively: her work is an emanation of her. Nothing comes between herself and what she makes. What she does is what she is.