Artist Susie Olczak combines neon and stone

Sculptor and installation artist Susie Olczak uses light as a medium Art. Her work is influenced by minimalism, light, geometry, balance and architecture.
Susie Olczak has a BA Hons in Fine Art Sculpture and she studied stone carving and bronze casting at Kyoto Seika University, Japan.
Perspex, steel, concrete and stone all are materials Susie explores with her dramatic installations.
She combines neon and stone together to create a fragile piece, making a space ambiguous. ‘The psychological effects of light’ was indeed her dissertation’s subject !
With her abstract pieces, Susie’s photographs become optical illusions too.

Her work have been shown at the BBC, Cambridge Institute of Astronomy and for Charles Saatchi at the Big Chill Festival.

We caught up with Susie and she explains her work and gives an insight of her personal creative process approach. Enter her universe:

“I want to make a light box for the office – a strange bright box glowing in the middle of the ubiquitous office space which is curious yet welcoming.” Susie Olczak


CM: Where are you based and what do you do?
I am based in Cambridge and I make sculpture and installation work. I also do quite a bit of photography, taking abstract photos from my sculptures and installations.

CM: What has had the biggest influence on choosing your career path?
I think I have always been creative, my parents encouraged me when I was younger, by taking me along to art galleries and doing creative workshops. I am very grateful for this and feel that I wouldn’t be where I am now without their support. When I was about 16 I realised the art world was where I wanted to build my career and started to seriously consider going to art school and I began working on my portfolio.

CM: Did you study your trade, if so where?
I was lucky enough to be accepted to the Glasgow School of Art and it was in my second year and my exchange in Kyoto, Japan where I lived for six months, that I became interested in light as a medium for art. I loved art school, being able to spend four years doing something I was passionate about every day and being surrounded by creative people was a really inspirational experience.


CM: What does a typical day in a creative studio looks like?
Depending on what projects I have on, it can vary immensely, from computer work, submitting proposals for exhibitions and commissions, to working away with power tools at a piece of stone or welding metal. I also spend a lot of time drawing, and photographing, to generate ideas and to document work or to design forms for sculptures or for glass to be made into neon. I usually return from a day in the studio, completely covered in dust and exhausted but very happy.

CM: Describe your working environment?
I have a studio in Cambridge city centre, which I share a friend. I was lucky enough to land such a great space two years ago. It has a large yard for building and storing materials and we both have an office and there is also an outdoor covered area for dusty work. The studio is always a hub of activity and we help each other out a lot and discuss art during our breaks in our little garden when the sun is shining.

CM: Do you need inspiration to start a project or is a brief enough incentive?
I usually have a few ideas that I would like to work on at any given time, this can be inspired by a brief or the research I do. When I feel I need more inspiration, I spend a lot of time visiting exhibitions and researching online and in books. I often find that one idea sparks another, so at the end of a project I always have something that I would like to try next.

CM: Do you ever encounter creative blocks?  How do you deal with those if any?
I think everyone does. Sometimes it is good to take a little bit of time to step back and re-evaluate things, especially if a project is half finished and I can’t work out how to make the piece work. Often a bit of a break and a fresh mindset is all that is needed, or some advice from a friend or fellow artist usually does the trick.

CM: Where do your ideas or inspirations come from?
I am inspired by artists such as Richard Serra and Olafur Eliasson among many others. I also find inspiration in the architecture I see around me and the work of a lot of my friends. I am interested in psychology and optical illusions. In particular gestalt psychology which is to do with our brains’ ability to understand form. I am also inspired by materials and often research new materials and try to understand processes that can be used to manipulate them.

CM: When working to a brief, how do you satisfy your own creative needs?
I think it is important to work towards briefs that have some connection to my own practice. I would often rather earn money through different means, such as teaching than to have to accept lots of briefs that don’t have any connection to my body of work. Of course I do sometimes take on briefs that are not completely related to my own work, but they usually have links and I try to satisfy needs by pushing myself to learn something new with every commission.

CM: Are you usually fully satisfied with the end project or do you wish you could revisit it?
I think however happy I am when I have finished a project, I always look back after some time and know that I could have done better and I always want to push myself further the next time I do a project. I think it is only natural to be driven to want to exceed what has come before.

CM: What materials and programs do you use?
Among other materials, I use stone, metal, wood, perspex and neon. I use a lot of online marketing programs, such as Pinterest, Tumblr, WordPress etc. I also use Photoshop and InDesign for proposals and for designing publications.

CM: Which is your most proud project to-date and why?
I think my latest neon piece. I have combined neon and stone together which is something I have wanted to do for a long time. It is a very fragile but interesting piece. The neon is embedded into the stone through a hole and was made inside the stone. I think it is a one of a kind piece and something I would like to do more of. Potentially for a permanent exterior piece.


CM: What inspires you in your home city?
I found Cambridge very different after living in Glasgow, it isn’t as varied in terms or architecture and doesn’t have so many interesting areas to the city. However, I love being able to bike to my studio and feel that living in a smaller city makes it easier to become known for what I do and to make connections with people. I am really inspired by the science in this city and am trying to get involved with lots of things that are happening here, such as artist run spaces like Aid and Abet and art projects such as E-luminate (a sustainable light festival) and Art, Language, Location (a public art project around the city.) Lots of people in this city are very supportive of me as a young artist and I am very grateful for all of their help.

CM: Which trade shows, blogs and magazines do you favour in your industry?
I think websites like Saatchi online are great as they give a professional platform for artists to show their work. I also love Pinterest and ArtStack for inspiration and Artist Newsletter for opportunities. I read Aesthetica magazine and the Tate and Royal Academy magazines.

CM: What are the biggest challenges and the biggest advantages of working as a creative in your city?
I think the biggest challenge is the university, as there are not many buildings that are not owned by the university in the city centre, it is hard to find spaces that we can use as artists for shows and projects. It is also difficult to gain support for more experimental art projects. The biggest advantages are that it is really well connected to London but it is a smaller place to become established in. Cambridge has a wealth of experience and skill and I can learn, exhibit, network and make work here but still be connected to the larger art scene of London.

CM: What have you learned about yourself by working in this industry?
I think I have learned so much. I have learned how I work by myself and in a team, I have learned how to be more assertive and I am learning how to balance a creative life but also to make a living.

CM: What would be your dream collaboration with any other creative field and or creative personality?
I would love to collaborate with Olafur Eliasson on a large public permanent light installation.

CM: If you had to live another life entirely, what would you be doing – and why?
I think I would like to be a doctor. I am really interested in helping people and find the science and skill behind medicine fascinating. I know that I could never work in a job that didn’t involve interacting with people so medicine would always keep me on my toes and would always challenge me.

Photography © Copyright: Susie Olczak