Artist Suse Nielebock: the music of places

Night moon by Suse Nielebock

Night moon by Suse Nielebock - Credit: Suse Nielebock

Focussed on colour and energy, Cheshunt’s artist Suse Nielebock’s semi-abstract landscape paintings have a charged atmosphere yet are open to the imagination of the viewer

Across the water by Suse Nielebock

Across the water by Suse Nielebock - Credit: Suse Nielebock

For Suse Nielebock, listening to music is the same as seeing it. Each note stimulates a colour. It’s a world where old instruments ‘look the best’ and singers are an unwelcome distraction. This multi-sensory ability and way of connecting with the world, known as synaesthesia, is a condition the Cheshunt artist has lived with for over a decade. The condition heightens an already sensitive reaction to her environment.

‘Ever since I was a kid, there are certain places that call to me. I want to paint them or paint something with that in mind, to recreate that feeling – an interconnectedness with the universe. It’s a celebration of being happy to be alive. To listen to Beethoven while I’m painting – it can’t get any better.’

At 47 – the artist’s ‘favourite number’ – the Heidelberg-born painter says the cross-wiring of her senses not only manifests itself in seeing music as colours, a palette is also attributed to letters of the alphabet and days of the week. During the couple of hours we spend together, she explains her passion for, and the limitations of, colour.

Field blue by Suse Nielebock

Field blue by Suse Nielebock - Credit: Suse Nielebock

‘I love blue and go back to blues all the time but I don’t want colours touching. I can’t wait to get to the stage in a painting when I add black lines. That’s sometimes when magic happens, when the abstract comes in.’

Blessed with parents who encouraged and showcased her work, it was initially homemade crafts that gave an outlet to her creativity. Suse went on to study fine art at A Level and then, believing her calling was in the world of academia, embarked on a philosophy degree. This was interrupted by a move to the US. A spell as a theatrical set designer followed and, although she painted during this time, it wasn’t until just two years ago, and settled in Herts, that she decided to focus on her art.

‘I had a corporate career and made good money, but the more successful I became the less time I had to paint. Stress made me quit my job. I didn’t know where to start developing my career – I just knew I had to paint.’

Reflecting fall by Suse Nielebock

Reflecting fall by Suse Nielebock - Credit: Suse Nielebock

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An art management course gave her the skills to promote herself. Her canvases began to sell and last year she organised her first solo exhibition. Suse’s studio is a small, south-facing bedroom.

An avid photographer of landscapes, her painting style in acrylics reduces the views to bold shapes and lines. Before committing to canvas she completes a number of sketches, searching for an interesting angle to inject intrigue. She explains that her images are less about depicting things realistically than an impression that draws in the viewer, providing the opportunity to go beyond realism.

‘When a painting is like a photograph, after marvelling at the skill, there’s nothing to look at. I prefer art which is not perfect, angles that give a dynamic.’

Water falls by Suse Nielebock

Water falls by Suse Nielebock - Credit: Suse Nielebock

With a need to create, who is she painting for – herself or a wider audience?

‘You cannot paint for other people or anticipate what they will see. I only have the viewer in mind a little. If I put stuff in front of people, they might have feelings they associate with it that I don’t.

‘I can only paint what I feel and hope it connects with someone else. Overlaying your emotions makes it your own. ’

She adds that she can be ‘overwhelmed by the beauty of a place’, especially the power of nature.

Along with an ethereal side, she can also be down to earth. The ‘ridiculous’ cost of paints prompts her to buy whatever is on sale. On brushes, however, she is prepared to spend more.

‘I wash them religiously, everything is treated like gold. Colour brushes will last a few paintings but the fine points change shape. I have palette knives which I’ve tried that give a completely different effect. Although I like them, I haven’t found my voice, they are not regular tools.’ Smiling at the memory of a painting she was unsatisfied with but which nevertheless sold, Suse says the process is a learning curve.

‘There aren’t any rules. When you start out as an artist you’re swimming in a sea by yourself. You have to work out what you need to do and can’t tell what people will think or like.’

Unlike her attention grabbing canvases, this artist is understated, yet she has a strong conviction: ‘I’m focussed, know where I’m going, and have a belief in myself. I feel I’m at the beginning of the real painter in me.’

Suse Nielebock’s work will be on show from April 22-May 20 at Gallery 1, Mill Green Museum, Hatfield as part of an Earth Day collaboration with 20 Herts artists, and at Hertford Library during Hertford Art Trail from April 7-May 6.