In Juliette Furio’s latest #ArtistInterview, TBSers are treated to the world of artist, model and student of linguistics, Susan Joy Krieg.
I have had the opportunity of observing the development of Susan Joy Krieg’s practice over several years. Deeply steeped in thought with charm and a smile to match, her mode of self-expression has evolved from painting, to utilising text and language as her primary forms of media. What is perhaps most fascinating about this self-coined “cerebral” artist, is the multi-faceted aspects of her person. Artist and model as well as a student of linguistics, it made for one stimulating conversation.
J: Susan, tell me about the journey of your artistic career, how did you start out?
Susan Joy Krieg: It’s always hard to look back. You want to say “I started here,” but you didn’t really, because you always had that outlook and simply became more aware of it as a career. When you start to pursue it as your studies and you know you’ll be focusing on it for five to six years, you start to make definitive steps. But that is completely the beginning. Within that, there is a massive journey of questioning things.
What was the initial trigger that lead you to pursue the fine arts as full time study?
I realized that I see myself as an artist. Viewing artworks and going to exhibitions and decoding that whole world; I’m existing this way, but there’s another level that I’m not taking it to. So I guess there is a realisation that you should go all the way.
How would you describe the difference between what you were making pre- and post- art school?
More traditional mediums. I didn’t have an understanding of myself enough to realize the spectrum of “what art is” and the voice that comes out of you. Pre, I saw art as the medium that I loved, which was painting. Art school broke that down and opened it up for me.
So, would you say that broadened your understanding of self-expression and opened the floodgate of what you use to express yourself?
Yes. studying something in that intense way, you’re seeking your own impulses, and as idealistic as it sounds, it can also damage your perspective as you’re not being taught a broader perspective of art. In that regard I was quite interested in graphics, prints, the line, colour versus the line and things like that. But it can lead you into a corner. Whereas when you are studying, you might discover interests you weren’t aware of.
How about now – you perform in a certain sense, as a model, you work for an art gallery and are also an exhibiting artist – do you see these aspects of your life as separate or interconnected?
I try to keep them separate but it’s not possible; you are one person. If you keep trying to wear a different hat, it’s almost the definition of having a mental breakdown. I didn’t think that I wanted to associate with the advertising side of things, in terms of the modelling as well as that whole world of fashion and advertising. It seems to me – initially and whilst you’re in it – quite vacuous. I didn’t want to associate it with me or who I was, but there is a massive amount I have drawn from that over time in terms of semiotics. I realised that there are a lot of artists or photographers who I admire in the art world – Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Andy Warhol – that came from backgrounds in advertising and see things the way they did because they’re constantly dealing with this semiotic play of images. Possibly not the text side so much but definitely the general understanding of semiotics and how it plays into society.
What made you discover the text? That has been quite a major development in your art practice.
Yeah! That was another thing – just an interest that I had, that I thought was completely separate to my practice. Again, I was trying to understand how I would work out that interest in my life because I had an interest in becoming an artist, as well as an interest in linguistics. In my reading, I had been setting time aside for one and then the other, then there was an enlightened moment where I realised, “this is my obsession, and they overlap!” I started working with signs and gestures in drawing in the third year of my Bachelors and it felt like my most accomplished and honest work. I realised that it was the future of my practice.
Have there been unexpected developments in the meanderings of your practice?
I think there was an unexpected development in regards to media that I was using. I saw myself as a painter and then realised that, “hang on, I’ve been excessively using woodwork and haven’t been painting at all.” I started a painting in Honours that never got finished! It almost felt like a break because you build your self up in a certain way and then it feels like you aren’t being true to that. There was a nice moment when I realised, “no, I’m an artist and it doesn’t matter what medium I’m working in.”
What do you think about the gap between artist and audience?
I’ve gone through so many different emotions regarding that! Initially, I thought that the purpose of art was to connect with the viewer; for them to understand the work. The more reading I did in Honours for my thesis, the more OK I became with putting your work into the world and it being perceived in a completely different way. I quite enjoy the idea that once you have made an artwork, it’s not finished until the audience has taken it apart.
It’s a mystery that is available to be decoded, a message without the handbook to go with it. It must be liberating; to express your self knowing that it might not be read completely. What strikes me is that there seems to be quite a parallel between the medium of poetry and what you are doing.
Yeah, definitely – the reading of literature. That is what certain theorists talk about, actually; The Death of the Author is a well-known one by Roland Barthes. There is a long history of artists putting meaning out into the world. How is it going to be interpreted, who is receiving it and do you need them to?
How do you see yourself reflected in your art?
Definitely in terms of personality traits and temperament. That’s the nice thing about your practice turning into what you would like it to look like. You’ve had all these visual influences over time and you almost replicate the art that you like. I let go of that and realised that I have my own sensibilities that I should embrace. Things like coding and language, the acceptance that I am quite a cerebral person and really like to think about things.
As an objective observer I’m going to throw a word out there; could a similar trait between your personality and work be “enigma”? You express yourself, as does your work, but there is a mystery that wraps it up. You give everything –
But nothing at all! Possibly. I don’t know, I can’t comment on someone else’s reading but it’s nice to hear. For the longest time my feeling was that if you connect with one person in that way, then it was all worth it. I like to play with those levels of understanding now. I have an artwork called My Greatest Fear is Inevitable, My Greatest Fear is that I will be Misunderstood, and that was me coming to term with it. Then I have artworks that are a bit more humorous, like “who cares? I’m going to be misunderstood any way.” It’s been a fun journey.
Is there a destination you would like to arrive at, in terms of that journey?
That’s an interesting question…at the moment my work is becoming more socio-political. You can use a small amount of words to produce a strong meaning. That is a big turn in my practice. Now I’m making work that addresses our current political situation in Australia.
Can I ask you for your view, or is that wrapped in enigma as well?
I’d prefer not to say; I’m not a politician – I’m an artist because that is what I do better. I think that it is the artist’s role in society to be sensitive to changes, and it is then natural for it to come out in your work. There is a body of work in development at the moment, of traditional and mixed media, displayed in the traditional white cube of the gallery space. I’ve been invited to be part of a feminist exhibition, which is pushing me to create a work on a theme I might not have otherwise.
Keep an eye out for the work of Susan Joy Krieg in Notes Towards a Future Feminist Archive at Cross Art Books, 33 Roslyn Street, Kings Cross – opening Friday March 6, until April 18, 2015.
You can also see Susan Joy Krieg’s work at her website.
See more of Juliette’s work and interviews at her blog.