Su Blackwell graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2003. She makes intricate art-works from every-day objects, transforming clothes and books into fantastical three-dimensional forms. Using a scalpel she cuts and glues the pages of books to create miniature dioramas glowing with lights in wood and glass boxes, like Victorian relics found in a museum of intrigue, and very much like her hero Joseph Cornell who will be exhibited at the Royal Academy in an exhibition entitled Wandrelust July 14th until September 27th 2015.
Blackwell finds her books – or rather lets them find her – by trawling through secondhand book shops. She always reads the book first and this in turn inspires the work. Some that come into the artist’s possession sit on her shelf for months and months. The books themselves, their histories and stories, also interest her. They hold in their pages a record of their past events, as physical objects; their damage, such as frays and stains, makes our relationship with the contents immediate and visceral, and in turn tells another story.
As the Royal Academy Introduction to Wanderlust says “From a basement in New York Joseph Cornell channeled his limitless imagination into some of the most original art of the 20th century. Step into his beguiling world at this landmark exhibition. Cornell hardly ventured beyond New York State, yet the notion of travel was central to his art. His imaginary voyages began as he searched Manhattan’s antique bookshops and dime stores, collecting a vast archive of paper ephemera and small objects to make his signature glass-fronted ‘shadow boxes’.
These miniature masterpieces transform everyday objects into spellbinding treasures” Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust is organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in collaboration with the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
For this series, Blackwell explores the concept of ‘dwelling’. ‘I have created nine new book-sculptures based on this theme.
All of the works explore ‘dwelling’ as an imaginative space. They are inspired by the folk stories from the pages they are carved from, but they also operate on a personal level.
The works include dwellings, such as lighthouses, wood cottages, tree-huts and houses, which appear to be inhabited as often they are lit up, but the scenes I have created are stark and the houses often solitary.
I have been inspired by water, by lakes, and the sea. There is a sense that one needs to take a journey to travel to these dwellings.
To quote Gaston Bachelard, from his book ‘Poetics of Space, ‘It is about the architecture of the imagination’.
I have been compelled to create these dwellings now, as I am in the process of selling my house (a house which has many memories, and one which I am reluctant to leave). I am leaving London (a Metropolis), to possibly living in a quiet town by the sea. The process of buying a new house is daunting, an emotional upheaval.
Gaston Bachelard put it so eloquently when he wrote.
“Sometimes the house of the future is better built, lighter and larger than all the houses of the past, so that the image of the dream house is opposed to that of the childhood home…. Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house that we shall live in later, always later, so much later, in fact, that we shall not have time to achieve it. For a house that was final, one that stood in symmetrical relation to the house we were born in, would lead to thoughts—serious, sad thoughts—and not to dreams. It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality”.
The material I choose to work with, ‘paper’ has an impermanence. I employ this fragile accessible medium to reflect on the precariousness of the world we inhabit and the fragility of our dreams and ambitions.’
“There remains a compelling reflection on the enduring human need to find psychological refuge in familiar places and spaces”.
“Thus the dream house must possess every virtue. How ever spacious, it must also be a cottage, a dove-cote, a nest, a chrysalis. Intimacy needs the heart of a nest. Erasmus, his biographer tells us, was long "in finding a nook in his fine house in which he could put his little body with safety. He ended by confining himself to one room until he could breathe the parched air that was necessary to him”. - Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space
"I’m struck by the beauty of Su’s work. Her pieces are fragile and ephemeral, and the more you look, the more you see. I can see the influence of her textiles training, too – there are multiple repeats and each letter is like a stitch. It’s as if she’s weaving with words". - Justin Croft, Antiquarian Bookseller.
Su Blackwell is an artist working predominantly within the realm of paper. She has exhibited her exquisite sculptures around the World. Her illustrated book of fairy tales ‘The Fairytale Princess’, written by Wendy Jones, and published by Thames & Hudson was released in 2012. Su has designed art fabric for Liberty London, and her illustrations are contributed to a regular column in ‘Intelligent Life’ magazine and Harper’s Bazaar UK. Su has also turned her hand to theatre set-design. In 2011, Su was asked to design the set for The Rose Theatre’s production of ‘The Snow Queen’.