04/05/2023 Interview with Susie Hamilton

Interview with Susie Hamilton

Procession/30 by Susie Hamilton

ACBF: Would you share a little of your thoughts and inspirations for Oh Ceremony….’ and will the Coronation be inspiring more works? 

Susie: Yes, my thoughts, expressed in Shakespeare’s soliloquy in ‘Henry V’, are about the gap between glorious ceremonial and the flawed man who, as king, is honoured by it. I’m thinking of Henry’s sense of the absurdity of setting people up in this way, with sword and mace and crown imperial, and yet the way his shrewd staging of splendour (as Prince Hal and then as King) responds to a popular need for royal magnificence. 

I’m also considering the religious implications not just of coronations but of sacred ritual in general. I’m pondering St Augustine’s description of a sacrament as ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.’ ‘O ceremony, show me but thy worth’ indeed.

And yes, I’m sure that the coronation will inspire more pictures. Processions have been part of my work since the 90s and will be the basis for future painting. 

My recurring friezes of distorted, disfigured figures are inspired by royal ceremonial but also by other kinds of ritual: Bacchanalia or English folk festivals, for example, in which humans morph into animals, hybrids and fantastical creatures. The paintings that are emerging use these elements to make new combinations of abstraction, metamorphoses and monstrosity. 

Pink Procession/3 by Susie Hamilton

ACBF: What, if any, are your thoughts on the fact that the image of  Charles III on Royal Mail stamps will not be wearing a crown 

Susie: I suppose that the lack of crown is an attempt to make Charles seem more ordinary, one of us. But while a king is merely human, it is a little disingenuous to pretend he is like us, set apart as he is by wealth, lands, customs and hierarchy.

ACBF: If you had to have one, would you prefer a Queen or a King to reign over us? 

Susie: Maybe a queen to even things up and Princess Anne would have been good. But I don’t have a strong preference. 

Procession 17 by Susie Hamilton

ACBF: What are your thoughts on the many representations of Queen Elizabeth II in art over the decades, and do you see her as a modern day icon?   

Susie: In a lot of portraits she looks a bit solid and bland. I prefer ones that suggest some kind of inner pressure: Chris Levine’s ‘long-suffering’ portrait with eyes shut, or Mark Stewart’s photo of her shedding a tear at the cenotaph. Then I like Warhol’s emphasis on surface in his portrait, as if a monarch is a constructed image.

I suppose she is an icon, or symbol, of monarchy. For many she was its perfect embodiment because, despite portraits when she shows a sliver of emotion, she was inscrutable, a Sphinx of baffling neutrality.

ACBF: If invited to paint Charles III’s portrait, would you accept and if so how (and where) might you present him?  

Susie: I couldn’t easily accept a commission from King Charles, as I’d make him look too pendulous and unattractive. If I had to do it, I’d try to avoid this by painting him from a distance in a landscape of trees, acknowledging his eco interests. 

Abbey/2 by Susie Hamilton

ACBF: Would you rather dance the Charleston or an Elizabethan Waltz? 

Susie: You mean that Elizabethan serenade? I hate it, slushy and sickly, like waiting-room music. So I’d have to opt for the Charleston though I’d have been no good as a dizzy flapper slopping my cocktails as I waved my arms about.

ACBF: Who, dead or alive, would you like to paint your portrait? 

Susie: Having seen her strong show at the Barbican, I’d like to have had Alice Neel do my portrait. 

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