CiCi Suen, a versatile artist trained in illustration at Camberwell College of Arts, has navigated various mediums from graphic novels to fine art. As she transitions into oil painting, Suen continues to experiment with different ways to depict nature and is considering integrating narrative elements into her compositions.
Kelly Foster – Your website displays a wide range of your artistic talents, from illustrations and graphic novels to paintings and works on paper. Can you discuss how your background in illustration influences your current projects?
CiCi Suen – I completed my studies in illustration at Camberwell College of Arts. After graduating, I ventured into both illustration and graphic design, taking on diverse projects such as graphic novels and magazine covers. I tailor my style to the specific needs of each project. When the pandemic led to more time spent at home, I started exploring new materials and subjects, particularly pastels and charcoal. These mediums proved to be a great fit for a graphic novel I was developing, which in turn led me to explore larger and more impactful pieces. This naturally evolved my work into fine art.
KF – The works on paper you’ve shared, which feature both male and female figures, were they created during your period of exploration in the pandemic?
CS – Yes, exactly. The works titled “Jonathan” and “The Fig Tree” were inspired by real-life situations. “Jonathan” was influenced by my partner and his surroundings, while “The Fig Tree” was inspired by a woman sitting under a tree. In both cases, I used photographs for reference but relied on my intuition throughout the drawing process. My initial aim is to capture the essence of a moment, and I build upon that foundation to develop aspects like background, colour, and texture.
KF – It seems you’re transitioning to oil painting now. How is that journey progressing?
CS – I’m indeed experimenting with oil painting. Unlike working with pastels and charcoal, which allows for more spontaneity, oil painting is a more intricate process that requires careful planning.
KF – Your works on paper, especially the soft pastel pieces, are incredibly captivating. The way you portray flowers combines both motion and tranquillity.
CS – Thank you. I genuinely enjoy using soft pastels to create texture and blend colours. Charcoal helps me to draw lines and emphasise details. While creating these pieces, I attended a meditation dance event. The energy and vitality I felt there became part of my creative process, which perhaps might have roots in my background in illustration.
KF – How do you decide which moments in life are worth capturing in your art?
CS – It’s challenging to articulate. Certain moments simply resonate with me on a level that’s difficult to put into words.
KF – During the pandemic, did nature serve as a refuge for you?
CS – Absolutely, parks became my sanctuary. They offered pockets of nature in London and also served as communal spaces. Nature felt rejuvenating during that isolating period and encouraged me to observe my surroundings more closely.
KF – What prompts you to capture specific images when you’re out in the world?
CS – I’m captivated by the natural patterns in grass and branches. They present beautiful, yet chaotic structures that somehow manage to form a harmonious composition. I often make quick observational sketches or take photos to later incorporate these elements into my work.
KF – Can you discuss how specific stories or experiences influence your art?
CS – My approach is largely experimental. Each new piece is an opportunity to try something different—be it in the colour palette or the material used. My emotions do sometimes play a role; for instance, a visit to Virginia Woolf’s old house inspired one of my paintings.
KF – Does literature have an influence on your work?
CS – I believe that an artist’s work reflects a blend of their character, experiences, and influences. Even my colour choices stem from this intricate blend. Everything is interconnected.
KF – When you reference literature or stories, is that a deliberate choice?
CS – It’s a mix. While the images and compositions often emerge from my subconscious, the titles and direct references are usually more deliberate. My creative process floats between these two realms.
KF – What future directions do you see for yourself as an artist?
CS – I plan to continue exploring various ways to depict nature and am considering integrating figures and narrative elements into my compositions. I’m also keen to experiment with soft pastels, oil painting, and other mixed media techniques. Elements like antique-style chairs might also make their way into my work; for example, a chair in one of my recent pieces comes from Virginia Woolf’s garden.
KF – What about Virginia Woolf resonates with you?
CS – I’ve read most of her books and am inspired by her focus on the intricacies of nature. Unlike many writers who delve primarily into human emotions and narratives, Woolf places significant emphasis on the world around us. While some artists can articulate the story behind their work, I often let my work speak for itself, finding it hard sometimes to explain the process behind it.