Artist on File: Sue Wookey

Sue Wookey in her Studio

Clare Kendal Bate met up with Herts Visual Arts Member Sue Wookey, Artist & Poet.

Recently, I met with artist Sue Wookey at her studio in Luton.  Sue grew up there after her Welsh parents moved to Bedfordshire in 1950. However, her father’s side of the family were from Somerset, hence the wonderful west country surname.

Sue has been painting all her life and as a youngster she wanted to take ‘A’ level art but was told that there was ‘no such thing as making a living out of art’, so was guided in the direction of taking Geography at UCL. When she arrived at university she could see all the art courses available which could lead to ‘real jobs’ in the creative domain and yearned to switch courses, but in the end felt she had to stand by her original choice. She continued to paint landscapes and sketch friends, however.

After leaving university in 1977 Sue applied for a job as a picture researcher in the BBC image library in Marylebone. At the BBC she mostly specialised in historical collections, old photographs and engravings.  Moving on to modern photography, she has worked in the picture industry and for photo agencies for most of her career. Working there gave her invaluable experience in business and equipped her for a career in art after ‘seeing thousands of images’. Then 10 years ago after deciding she no longer wanted to make the commute to London, she began working part time for the Bedford University Library.

In 2007 she took the courageous step of leaving her job to set up her own business, Galley Hill Art. ‘I immediately knew this was the right step and that it was what I was meant to be doing. I decided to go for it and make of it what I would’.

In her spare time she sings contralto with Putteridgebury Gilbert and Sullivan Society and feels passionately about it.  ‘If I couldn’t do my singing I think I would die’.  Sue recently took part in the Buxton Festival, in previous years performing in Buxton Open House.  She has twice been in the competition and this year took part in the festival fringe. She also draws original materials for their poster designs.

Sue is particularly inspired by the symbols, myths and legends of early history and this is inherent in her work. 'You will see from a lot of my paintings that I am influenced by the jewelled quality of Indian and Persian miniatures, the intricacies of Celtic art, the luminescence of stained glass, and harmonious shapes and patterns. I use a mixed media of watercolour, gouache and ink to achieve glowing paintings full of colour.
I have always been fascinated by the mounds, ramparts and stones left by the peoples who lived in Britain before records began. What we can see of the megaliths and art they left behind just opens up questions and this mystery is explored in many of my paintings.' .... ‘I love the feeling of continuity with people here a long time ago.  There is a universality of the meaning of symbolism and pattern that dates back thousands of years.  We have become detached from the mystical beauty of the world those early people had.’

'The Green Man Ready for Battle"

One of Sue’s paintings is called The Green Man Ready for Battle. Throughout the ages the legend of The Green Man can be found in different cultures all over the world. He is primarily interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, the woody spirit of all things green and growing. In the painting his beautiful green eyes have a steady even gaze, neither confrontational nor comforting.  ‘The eyes have a personality that I didn’t put there, it arrived from somewhere’
The words around the painting The Green Man Ready for Battle read:
When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with the fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze - Thomas Carlyle

'The Green Lady'

Sue created a beautiful companion piece to The Green Man, called The Green Lady.  ‘She represents Nature at its most abundant and generous’.
 The two quotes around the border read: Nature never did betray the heart that loved her - William Wordsworth
In leaf and blade, in bud and bloom exultantly her gladness grows - R.W. Service
‘I love painting with watercolours, gouache and ink and find that my creative mind responds to playing music when I paint.  I am more interested in the finished image rather than the process. I enjoy the technical side of painting, but I really love what the completed image has to say.  I find I go into meditative state, tapping into the source of inspiration that some call a muse.’
‘The painting comes first and then the words.  I can be inspired by the painting and a certain piece of poetry will come to mind and will fit the picture perfectly.  Other times I will write my own poetry or verse to give the piece another dimension.’

'Three Running Hares'

The Three Running Hares is based on an ancient symbol that can be found all along the Silk Road from China to South West England, where it can be seen on church roof-bosses and in stained glass. The painting is an optical illusion and depicts three hares chasing each other around but sharing only three ears. ‘The symbol could be connected to the lunar cycle. I've put moons in the painting anyway because - to me - it represents the cyclical passing of time which both races by faster than we can catch it and repeats at one and the same time.’  

'The Cradle of Life'

One of the recurring symbols in Sue’s work is that of the Vesica piscis, which is used by many cultures, past and present, in religious art, architecture and freemasonry. It is an elliptical shape, usually made by the intersection of two circles. The painting called The Cradle of Life is an example.  The words around the painting read:
Fire is his head, the sun and moon his eyes, the heavens his ears, the scriptures his voice, the air his breath, the universe his heart, and the earth his footrest. The Lord of love is the innermost self of all.  Mundaka Upanishad

'Moon Horse'

One of my favourite paintings is Moon Horse and I think it must be Sue’s too because she cannot bear to be parted from the original.  ‘I painted this stallion from deep inner imaginings and wanted the dappling of the moon to echo the dappling on his body.’

The words around the painting read:
Over the hill runs the Horse, above the hill rides the Moon, silvered with the forgotten fire - the dappled Horse and the Moon. Sue Wookey - artist

'Raven with the Sun'

Sue also uses the metaphor of the labyrinth in her work. ‘The labyrinth design is an old one and was found carved into a rocky outcrop in Tintagel, Cornwall and is believed to be early Bronze Age, although the labyrinth is of very ancient origin and is found in many cultures all over the world, including the Etruscans and the Hopi Indians.’

The words around the painting read:
Raven of thought and memory, companion of the one-eyed god, newsbringer, trickster and shifter. Sun finder, light bringer, white tower watcher, guide from formless into clarity, idea to reality. Sue Wookey

As well as selling the original artwork, Sue also produces quality giclee prints and cards, ‘so more than one person can enjoy them.’

Sue has taken part in many exhibitions around Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire and was also asked to exhibit in Wales at the Festival in the Shire, a celebration of all things Tolkien inspired. See her Tolkien paintings on the Galley Hill Art website.

Open Studios
Sue will be displaying her work at our Open Studios event throughout September, alongside artists Teresa Newham, Hilary Taylor and Helen Griffin, at Artscape Arts in Harpenden.

HVA Art and Gift Fair
Sue will also be exhibiting at our Art and Gift Fair at St Albans Town Hall on Saturday, 3rd December, 2011.
If you would like to see more of Sue Wookey’s work please visit her website: