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Suzanne Bellamy

Artist Statement

The many multiple forms that fuse in my life as an artist and writer have not always come together so confidently as they do now. I started as an academic historian for some years while still developing an art practice in the spaces between a university teaching/research career. Along the way I accumulated experience and training as a thinker and researcher, a printmaker and sculptor, a potter, a Virginia Woolf scholar, an activist and feminist, a writer and a traveller. Since the 1980’s I have lived as a full-time studio artist and writer, and in 2008 I began a PhD project (University of Sydney) on the Australian artist and scholar, Nuri Mass, whose dual creativity and pioneering work on writer Virginia Woolf mirrored some of my own multiple interests. As always, finding the balance of forms is the key to living creatively.

In the 1980’s challenging new energies had surfaced and I shed one life, living since then away from institutions and the city as a fulltime artist and writer. My home base is in Australia where I live in a solar rural studio south of Sydney, in the bush near the little village of Mongarlowe. With platypus in the creek, wombats , kangaroos and echidnas nearby, surrounded by a lovely eucalyptus forest, it is possible to live out some of the passions of my work, involving magical space, ecology, animals and land care, layered cultures and political change, water, village life, and who we are in the universe. I had been taught and developed a creative visioning practice in my twenties and use meditation as a tool in my work and spiritual life.

I have been visiting the USA annually since the start of the 1990’s, exhibiting, travelling, and working with other artists on many diverse projects. These include the Michigan Women’s Music Festival Graphics Crew (five years), the annual International Virginia Woolf conferences, music festivals, arts workshops and the SUNY campus at Oswego. Like Gertrude Stein, I embrace the New World while exploring my links with the old. I love the place of the Outsider as well as the Insider on our little planet. Living in postcolonial Australia, a new culture and a deeply ancient one, is a complex and conflicted fusion.

Language fascinates me, from hieroglyphics to colour form, from speech to musical abstraction, archaeology to architecture, based in a close and often comic reading of signs in the earth, and a memory bank of geomancy and creative synaesthesia. The idea behind my first solo USA show Trading Places (2003) was ecology of forms, fusions of biography and image. The long painting and print project on Virginia Woolf originated in reading her work as intentionally visual in its core structure, painting with words. It was a great place for me to further explore the fusion of forms in ideas and the visual, and the passionate pursuit of the structure that could evolve in some future world where the brain released us from current divisions of meaning. Both Woolf and Stein, the greatest of the early women modernists and rule breakers in all ways, are abiding influences for me.

As art practice literally lives in the body, I find my approach to materials also blends techniques. Printing and embossing draw on methods found also in my carving porcelain or approaching canvas as a living fabric, using sponges and tools more than brushes. Techniques feed off each other and all ask, “Where do ideas come from?” where is the great egg where art begins? Deep familiar old continuities in my work are expressed in the pots I have always made and the kilns I love to fire. Too big to travel, made from the earth and the fire, holding an old energy, they underpin all form in the work and now find new life in digital imaging.


The journey of my creative practice in words, ideas and the visual has always been focussed on the work process itself as much as the artifacts that might emerge from the work. I like the work to enter into a conversation about reality, story, ordinary life, change, and what is the purpose of art and artists on our planet at this vantage point. Because I come out of an intellectual background of words, history, research and academia as much as the visual, I look for fusions, structures and ideas that will allow me to bring together all the parts of my being in the world. Of course we are surrounded by the visual and the sensory at every moment, but my work has never been about representing that in any direct way. I do not seek to make pictures of what I see so much as what I sense and dream, feel inside me, find in meditation. Some of these experiences take the form of long narratives lasting many years, like the boat journeys and great group pilgrimages, and the complicated narratives I sustain about them and write in my journals. It feels rather like living inside a novel, but one that is made up of time elipses, not only historical but mythological and certainly comical, theatrical and enduring. I have invented a private language for all this, text and visual, and it has its own inner logic. One of my questions every day is how does one make a bridge between what is sent and what can be made from it? I have a wise old friend who says that it's quite simple for artists, "all you have to do is bring it through to form", she says. But it's never simple, it never fully happens, and yet the question sustains the passion to keep trying. I have another question. "How many pots does one woman have to make?" The specific answer I can now reveal is 49, at least for the Steps Project with its magical over- the-top journeywomen carrying their creations. The answer to the bigger question about how much one artist has to make is also not simple but I think it is not possible to know what one has created until after the last breath of life, and then perhaps it will be possible to see a pattern and a landscape travelled and a story and some shape to it all.

Another friend once said to me that artists live on our own island, and so I don't forget that. The surrealists talk about making the strange real, about inventing tricks to let out the improbable and the unfamiliar. Gertrude Stein studied the theory of the unconscious creative, and practiced a disciplined meditative form of this in her amazing brilliant writing. Only after 20 years of reading her have I now begun to get it. She is floating about in my work and on my 'Steinway' ladder because she has been such a great teacher about process and ideas for me in recent years and I owe her. Many artists and writers have inspired my search for the bridge, as Virginia Woolf called it "the narrow bridge of art." In particular Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein, early women modernists of great experimental courage, have been the focus of a long research project for me in the form I call the Visual Essay. Both of them lived in an ambient vibrant world of art theory and artists, and held a belief in dual creativity, the merging of the worlds of the visual and the verbal.

I have explored what I feel about abstract form, especially the way music looks and feels to me. The screen is a gesture to the room, to Omega and Bloomsbury, to the Australian early modernist painter Grace Cossington Smith, and also to the arts and craft movement I love. Clay has always been in my life since childhood, kilns and firings and the drama of working for the fire goddesses. Here I have given myself permission to work in clay in another way, to paint it as though it is canvas or paper. With embossing on paper, I love how it is possible to make paper three dimensional, like carving. In the end, all these processes live in the body. This comes through especially with the prints and canvases which I work at very physically with scraping tools and sponges, salt and tapioca, whatever comes to mind. As Stein said, "use everything." As she also said, if you know where you are going, why go there?

Living in Mongarlowe, in the bush by a creek, I am filled with my land and its sounds and colour and beings over/in/through time. That is a constant. My studio is anchored there but it moves too, like a ship or a space vehicle. I can fly out the walls to space, I love the Hubble Space Telescope and the openings of the human brain in these dangerous amazing times. Memory has wheels as windows have wings and contain emotional minefields. Everything is connected to everything else, a fortunate state of affairs which means that there is still hope to bring all the bits and pieces together and find the great bridge across the realities of creativity. Solid objects in a fluid world on a fragile beloved planet in a time of war and hubris, what more could one desire to kindle new ideas and new projects?


The Print Series called Graphic Scores explored the relationship of light and visual forms to sound and music. They could each theoretically be played. They are informed by ideas from Graphic New Music and atonalism, post-war avant-garde new music theorists, and Gertrude Stein’s exercises in Serialism and the Continuous Present. Underlying this process is a creative visualization exercise involving a journey to “A Place Where Art Comes From,” a spinning egg formation composed of sound and light vibrations. Materials used in the embossing process signify musical notation, where metal plumbing washers stand as notes. In homage to Stein, I also use common household objects and dried foods, such as lentils, rice and couscous.


Suzanne Bellamy is director of Mongarlowe Studio Workshops, a print, sculpture and ceramic studio, fires gas kilns, and prints on a Charles Brand Etching Press. All etchings and embossings are produced on this press, on acid free Fabriano cotton paper. Digital prints are produced at the Graphic Design Studio of SUNY Oswego, under the direction Professor Cynthia Clabough, Head of the Art School, who is a long-time colleague and collaborator. Every year Mongarlowe Studio Workshops opens for a three-day Open Studio show, over the fourth weekend in November.

Statements about Suzanne Bellamy’s artwork by other writers:

“Suzanne Bellamy’s visual essays on Virginia Woolf are stimulated by an intimate, collaborative engagement with Woolf’s writing. Academically trained, Bellamy also thoughtfully reads the relevant feminist and lesbian criticism on Woolf, other women writers, and the visual arts of modernism and Bloomsbury. Then, in her unique and revisionary way, she offers her visual essays as both scholarship and art, speaking and exhibiting at academic conferences as often as in art galleries. With infectious enthusiasm, she bridges the gap between scholarship and the visual arts by suggesting their mutual influence and shared creativity.

Suzanne has been a galvanizing presence at annual Woolf conferences since 1997. Her dialogues with artist Isota Tucker Epes about their visual responses to To The Lighthouse and The Waves have fascinated many of us interested in the differing perspectives and multiple points of view associated with modernism. Suzanne’s willingness and ability to articulate the creative process engendering her various Woolf-related series have resulted in candid, amusing and moving sessions.”

Diane Filby Gillespie, WSU, author of The Sisters’ Arts, The Writing and Painting of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and The Multiple Muses of Virginia Woolf.

“Suzanne Bellamy’s artistic visionary journeys guide us through non-linear times and spaces to intensely passionate encounters with our feminist literary foremothers, among them Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein. Notwithstanding their spiritual lives on multiple planes and dimensions, their cosmic conversations are conveyed to us with reverence, magic and humor. Bellamy’s ceramic groupings such as those in her installation The Lost Culture of Women’s Liberation, the Pre-Dynastic Phase, reveal our former revolutionary selves to our future extra-planetary incarnations, creating a bridge of solidarity that spans the centuries and cements our clairvoyant, comic creative connections.

Hatched from illuminated World Eggs of outer and inner space, her women figures and forms are singing and dancing in the round, cavorting and jubilating in celebration of the sacred cycles. Ancient, newly-born and re-born to ecstatic identities, Bellamy’s creators, performers, artists and ritualists seem to express a yearning for the recovery of an Ur-community and for the invisible geographies of a Great Mother.”

Gloria Feman Orenstein, USC, author of The Women of Surrealism, Women’s Literary Salons, 1975-1985, The Theater of the Marvellous, The Reflowering of the Goddess, and Leonora Carrington.


Artist Statement from the Catalogue
Under New Mexico Skies

By Suzanne Bellamy, 2009.

The landscape, colour, intense air and high altitude of New Mexico are unique. It has inspired great visionary art, mystical abstraction and magical forms, and drawn to it, artists, writers, poets from all over the earth, pilgrims, returning again and again, some moving there. Back in 1978, I first saw the work of artist Georgia O’Keeffe in a book. It was transformational for me. The name Abiquiu jumped out of the title of one of her paintings, a little pueblo north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Within a year, I went there. I found an old adobe house looking out over a wild landscape, O'Keeffe’s house. She was still living there. Her dogs barked at me as I walked around the wall and decided not to knock. She was then in her 90’s and died a few years later. I loved it all -Ghost Ranch, Santa Fe, Canyon Road, Bandalier National Archaeological Monument, San Ildefonso Pueblo and the great potter Maria Martinez, Taos.

Over the next 30 years I have returned six times, for Taos and Questa workshops and sweat lodges, conferences, explorations, encounters with the Kachinas and Corn Mother, with the black pots of Maria Martinez, the storyteller ceramic traditions of the Pueblo peoples, Navaho weaving traditions, the mad insane contradictions of Los Alamos and the bomb, the cool abstractions of Agnes Martin, Dorothy Brett, Mabel Dodge and the Bloomsbury exiles, visioning and making art, wandering in the high country and the thrilling mountains. Two recent trips in 2007 and 2008 completed the current cycle, including finally being able to visit inside O’Keeffe’s studio and house, see her pigments and colour strips and collections, her window views, black door in the wall, her shells and rocks and bones. A magical stay in Mabel Dodge’s house at Taos as part of a Bloomsbury South West research trip linked all the paths of early Modernism, and my personal muses. Life can be trulyelous.

Sometimes you have to go away from your own land to come home with signs and gateways to what it is that is your own work. The combination of the astronomical, archaeological and mystical, grounded in mud and earth and the creative is a rare thrill. Through my encounter with O’Keeffe and New Mexico, I found something of a model of how to live on land suffused with ancient cultures, living thriving indigenous traditions and eccentric individual artists. It is a border country between cultures in time, and a space in the sky. This was a perfect counter-point for an Australian woman artist living in troubled times.

The work for this exhibition is really a long meditation on my own work and some of its wellsprings, a way of naming and acknowledging some of my many inspirations. Undoubtedly, Georgia O’Keeffe opened a new form language for 20th C women especially as her work became known outside the USA in the late 1970’s. It was a time when women artists were inventing a new language for our visions and stories, something writer Lucy Lippard called “central core imagery.” There was a moment when new risky paths opened and a new generation of creative women could take the jump. We entered wild places following the breakthroughs of earlier artists, including the women surrealists of early modernist 20th C art whose work was brought to us by the pioneering research of the brilliant art historian Gloria Orenstein. Painters such as Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Frida Kahlo as well as O’Keeffe thrilled me. It is a sustaining women’s world, women’s visions, and an art imagery which is non-prescriptive and open ended. It is a great tradition. O’Keeffe’s story in particular really spoke to me, as it embodied the courage to make a leap into the work, leave academic safety and a career path and move into a place where the work and place drives everything. Place matters, what we make where we live, how we find our tradition, the responsibility to be serious, respectful and committed to finding new language, to entering the liminal world where the work comes from.

This exhibition uses clay forms in a mixed Media format on board with oils, to move across 30 years of my own art practice. I have always seen my clay work as storytelling, and found that first in the Hopi Storytellers and the old Anasazi pots. Some of the clay forms I have put through the etching press, as with ‘The Mother of Us All’, old skin and the shell of desire and the lips and bird forms of a lover. There is a lot of imagery here that is about essence, sexual openness, love of being a woman and loving women. There is the dream world and the bones, shells, clouds and flowers of O’Keeffe made into my own, mud and structure, weaving, combining the unlikely, listening to the voices. As an Australian woman artist, I love having been able in my lifetime to have encountered and absorbed the tradition of great women artists who emerged from the shadows of European modernism and made great lives in the New World, and who then embraced places utterly unknown to me, filled with magic and ideas. This then is homage to some of the great artists and places I love, a self-discovery that opens the way to new work in the future.

A Catalogue Review Essay of “Under New Mexico Skies”

By Gloria Feman Orenstein, 2009

An encounter with Suzanne Bellamy’s new works that revisit, through the artist’s brush and inner eye, the pilgrimages she has made to New Mexico for over three decades leads us to understand- how the native world of the American southwest became the TEMENOS, the spiritual centre of power for much of her own feminist art.

I imagine that Suzanne found herself drawn in by the Navaho, Hopi and Pueblo civilizations--its pueblos, its artefacts, and stories, and came as close as any contemporary woman artist could to a living encounter with a surviving earth-cantered culture where The Great Mother’s mythos is still honoured. In the past, Suzanne Bellamy has sculpted the feminists of our era inhabiting the dwellings of the pre-patriarchal Goddess civilization. In these, her newest works in clay and paint, the artist imagines the millennial traces of that Great Mother civilization, and she also envisages a Great Matrilineal artistic legacy for our time represented by its creative foremother, Georgia O'Keeffe. While O’Keeffe denied that her sensual flowers were images of female sexuality, Bellamy places a central core, vaginal image right in the middle of an O'Keeffe sky, surrounded by pillows of clouds. She thereby honours O'Keeffe as the locus of the ecstatic pleasure or “jouissance” that accompanies the ethos of female cosmic and artistic creation. Some of her works seem to be visions from far above the earth---perhaps glimpsed on meditative journeys to ancient times and places. They incorporate visual gestures, strokes and forms reminiscent of dreaming, those shapes and energies left on the earth that delineate the mapping (SEEING IT THROUGH) of the paths the ancestors took as they created the world. In NAVAJO MAGIC we look down upon energy lines, trails, tracks left in the earth by the Navajo ancestral spirits.

The song lines, the paths, the lightening, and the markings made by water or wind, are all created by ancient ones, progeny of an archetypal Great Mother, whose STORYTELLERS continue to transmit original narratives of creation to the children gathered in her arms and growing within her body, through the oral tradition, so that they may be revived today by visionary women artists like Suzanne Bellamy. Similarly, the painted strokes and colours on canvas, the iconic sexual symbols, the flowers, the sky and the landscapes become the song lines of the SOURCE, of our Womanline in a renewed art history, mothered by Georgia O'Keeffe, who located the matrix of her own creativity in New Mexico. In Bellamy’s artistic universe there is no boundary between inner and outer worlds, whether cosmic or psychic. The house may symbolize our home, our physical being or our spiritual habitat. NIGHT VISIONS locates the earthenware whose nourishment sustains us on the ledge of a cupboard in the sky—or one immersed in nightlight. DAY DREAMS attracts the light of the sun to illuminate the cupboard while a waterway or roadway flows through the shelves behind the vessels. Ladders often connect the exterior to the interior, or the mountaintop to the fertile feminine SOURCE of life in the sky. The microscopic and macroscopic worlds are always interwoven, and the central core icon of female creation is always present – never invisible. It is THE PRESENCE…never erased by patriarchal, millennial amnesia.

“FOR GEORGIA’ is a totemic figure. From a distance one can imagine that this is a woman enveloped in a shawl or blanket of diverse earthy hues. She is a spirit figure. Her body is like a map of sacred inner space with white light pouring through it. Why the antlers? To catch and send vibrations to and from the beyond? I can imagine that she may be out walking with her dog, if that is what I see beside her, perhaps walking towards the blue, towards the water. The blue resonates with the blue of WATER IS LIFE, an abstract rendering of the source of the purity, blessing, connectivity and wholeness of our entire planet. Birds abound. They fly into and out of the STORYTELLER, and cruise over the head of THE MOTHER OF US ALL.

This artistic meditation on three decades of journeying to Santa Fe is a kind of vision quest. One can meditate atop the sacred mountain and encounter the lineage of the Great Mother via such a physical journey, or, as Bellamy shows us, we can undertake a vision quest through the magic of art, via these creations that transform our state of consciousness in ways that enable us to see one culture through another, the past through the present, the spiritual through the terrestrial, and to know that all things are ultimately interconnected via the matrilineal matrix of sacred, joyous life in the cosmos.21 Suzanne Bellamy Journey to the Source (2009) 60 x 120 cm

***Gloria Feman Orenstein is a Professor of Comparative Literature and Gender Studies at the Univ. of Southern California. She is the author of THE THEATRE OF THE MARVELOUS: SURREALISM AND THE CONTEMPORARY STAGE, and of THE REFLOWERING OF THE GODDESS. She has co-edited REWEAVING THE WORLD: THE EMERGENCE OF ECOFEMINISM, and was the cofounder of The Woman's Salon for Literature in New York during the seventies. Gloria Orenstein has studied with a shaman, and has written on feminist spirituality and shamanism as well as on surrealist and contemporary women artists.