Sean Wai Keung talks with illustrator and designer Suzie Cichy
Sean Wai Keung: Could you take us through the cover image, for instance the how and why of each object you chose to present, as well as how you approached the wider composition? The ’tilt’ that splits the image is especially striking to me.
Suzie Cichy: The drawing is actually based on a photograph by Varsha Ramesh, a super talented still life photographer based in Vienna. It was posted as a prompt by the Instagram account Still Here Still Life, who started sharing drawing prompts in the first lockdown. I used to work mostly in black and white, but around the time that the prompt was shared I’d started (nervously) working in colour. I loved the brightness but simplicity of both the colour palette and composition: it was a really fun one to work on. High contrast images particularly appeal to me as I find drawing the shadows as interesting as drawing the actual objects.
I’ve always had an obsession with grids and have a habit of adding checked tablecloths to a lot of my work. With this particular one I wanted to allude to the edge of the table and the hanging cloth without drawing it too literally. I actually used a scan of an old maths book that I have and added that in digitally. I really liked how it split the image through a very slight adjustment in the angle.
Sean Wai Keung: What is it about food and wider culinary settings which draws you?
Prior to the pandemic my work was actually much more politically driven, and concentrated on themes of gender and censorship. As with so many people, lockdown made me re-evaluate what I was doing, and I just didn’t have the energy to continue the conversations that my quite reactionary practice was provoking. I’ve always had an inherent need to draw and make art, and so put my energy into drawing the Still Here Still Life weekly prompts. They really helped keep me going in a difficult time, and the non-politicised subject matter helped me to concentrate on developing my drawing instead of focussing more on a message.
Suzie Cichy: I’ve always loved cooking, going out to eat and trying new food: it was a really big part of my upbringing and I feel that it’s a really key part of my social life now and interests too. I think so many stories can be told through food, and it can be such an effective method to connect across cultures. I generally just love eating and drinking so in many ways it really makes sense for me to focus on these in my work!
Sean Wai Keung: This isn’t your only image in this style – how do you see your work in relation to the form and legacy of still life art?
Suzie Cichy: For a long time I didn’t really understand still life as a subject matter – I thought it was a bit boring, unoriginal, and that there wasn’t anything new to say with it. When you think of Still Life Art it tends to evoke traditional paintings by old masters such as Caravaggio or Cezanne, but actually there has been a whole story since then, through photography, modernist painters, illustrators and even installation artists.
Now I realise how universally recognisable it is, and how much you can say about a culture, time and place through arranging some objects and how you portray them. For me it has definitely been a chance to develop my visual language, and also work on some great projects in relation to food and cooking. Setting up my own still lifes to work from has really made me consider the potential meaning of every object in a composition, and how they can be used as a storytelling tool.
I dabble in ceramics and somehow always end up making things for the kitchen, or vessels that would fit nicely into a still life composition. I’ve recently been thinking about how these two strands of my practice fit together: I draw the objects from my head, make them in clay, and can now draw from them in real life. The process is something that I feel quite excited about and want to continue exploring.
Sean Wai Keung: How do you feel that Glasgow fits in with your work? I know you do stuff in terms of community arts facilitation, including with Print Clan, for instance, does any of that work influence your own approach?
Suzie Cichy: Glasgow is such a great city and certainly really central for my work in terms of inspiration. The food and drink scene is ever evolving and a big source of inspiration for me, especially where I live in Govanhill. I’m lucky to have a studio just around the corner from my flat, sell my work in local stockists and work in a screen printing studio just up the road!
Making the arts more accessible has always been a really key focus of mine, and I know it is such a privilege to be able to study art and make art, especially in the current climate. Art making is one of those things that often incites a really strong reaction when you ask someone to do it – I think so many people have been conditioned by school art teachers to think that if they can’t draw they’re never going to be any good at any art! One of the things I love about working at Print Clan is helping people to overcome that fear, and forget any preconceptions of what makes art ‘good’. I guess one of the things about my work is that because it is a universal subject matter people aren’t put off by the need to understand it. They can just look at it and decide whether they like it or not.
Sean Wai Keung: Do you enjoy poetry yourself? If so, what’s your favourite food-related poem?
Suzie Cichy: My sister, mum and brother-in-law are all really talented writers and poetry was a big thing in my house growing up. I definitely enjoy it but don’t keep up with it too much anymore! Most recently I’ve enjoyed reading some great poems in Potluck Zine. I’m excited to reconnect with some poetry through Magma too.
Sean Wai Keung: Lastly, since you titled the cover image ‘When Life Gives You Melons’, what’s your favourite type of melon and your favourite way of eating it?
Suzie Cichy: I love a fresh watermelon cut into big wedges, eating it with sticky fingers straight from the rind. No doubt making a mess everywhere!
Big Suze is the creative alias of Suzie Cichy, an illustrator and designer based in Glasgow’s Southside. Her cross-disciplinary approach to making sees her work across print, ceramics, and textiles, with a con-stant focus on drawing. When she’s not in her studio Suzie is teaching people how to screen print at Print Clan, an inclusive open-access textile printing workshop.