Golden Moments in Time and Music: Artist Susan Harrison-Tustain


ARTbop contributor Lee Switzer shares his impressions and images of an exhibition during the recent Tauranga Art Festival by artist Susan Harrison-Tustain. The exhibition was held at ‘Design on James’ 24A James Rd, Te Puna over the Art Festival weekend.

Even turning off Te Puna Road, onto James Rd, the street looks like a painting. The single vehicle width black asphalt road is lined with blooming cherry blossom trees. Their pink and white flowers, overhanging branches accentuate the artlike drive to the exhibition rooms. Green grass borders the road and surrounds each tree trunk like a well-manicured preface. Believe it or not, the clouds parted, briefly, providing a blue background shining through bending limbs. The limber leaves part, then rejoin their brethren as spring coils its’ coy stillness into splinters of water and wind.

Widely known artist, Susan Harrison-Tustain, teaches workshops around the globe. Her most recent exhibition is Gilded Edge – A Celebration of Gold and Colours. On a Sunday morning, she gave a tour of her works. She is not a ‘precious’ artist who refuses to give details about her works. Leading the group from painting to painting, she discussed her materials (German for the most part), methods (sketching, and small paintings before the Big one) and skills (wait 3 weeks for some paint to dry, dap oil from your neck when using gold flakes – but Don’t’ breathe!)

Years ago, the artist was not impressed with Gustav Klimt and his golden people. Until she visited a Klimt exhibition. From that time onward, it was a step in a new direction with reading, learning, practicing, painting in 24 carat gold. Klimt sent her on an unexpected yet fascinating trail through unswam waters.

Many of the paintings in this exhibition reflect personal extensions of abilities and pride in discovering fresh elements for exploration. Often Susan’s paintings contain a nearly hidden path for the interloper to tread. Much like her own visible, utilitarian and visceral experiences, travels over new ideas are imparted with subtle reminders of possibilities.   Her paintings are usually on Belgium linen or on laminated Popular wood with 8 coats of gesso.
        Artist Susan Harrison-Tustain

The painting to the artist’ left (above), ‘The Gift Pre-study,’ is a small, she says preparatory study, to a much larger work in the gallery. This ‘preparatory’ work is a finished gem. It is oil on 24 carat gold leaf and palladium leaf. (see ‘The Gift’ below.) Behind the artist is ’Beyond the Mist,’ oil on 24 carat gold leaf and palladium leaf. It has a path, a faint escape route (not clear in this photo) in the distance. Which direction is the person heading? There, or here? Who is waiting for whom?                           The Gift

The Gift.  Oil on 24 carat gold leaf and palladium leaf. Larger paintings require a broad scope of integrating colours for a magical moment that lasts a life time. In this painting distinct colours were separate but brought together by colourful splayed wings of the Kingfisher and overhanging grasses. Contrasts are important but should not clash Susan says. Near the base of the painting is another path. Light areas and dark areas can be moderated to achieve balance.

Ophir – Past and Present, oil on Belgian Linen. The artist is always looking for subjects. Passing a building in Central Otago, she went closer to examine it. Up close, she saw the left window was broken and inside the room was a dark door in the back. In order to bring out the mystery, to invite the viewer inside, she added colours to draw in the eye. And then she noticed the pane on the right was reflecting another building. Two windows above were closed. Here, the artist opens one window to give the overall impression of life, lines for drama beyond the walls.
Tempus Fugit (Time Flies). Oil on palladium leaf miniature. A favourite subject. Time. The pocket watch and Fantail within an enclosure. A golden thread attached to the pocket watch. Will it break, and if it does, will time too, fail? Or fly? Why a Fantail? The DOC web site describes attributes that may be pertinent to this painting. The artist had 6 of these handmade ‘frames.’ The doors close, she showed the audience, time remains and we can open the doors again for more time.

Susan says often people who have bought her paintings will ring her to say “we just saw something else in your painting.’ Her paintings are meant to be full of diversions. If you shift your position from left of the painting to the right, colours will change. Time and longevity are important to the artist. Our decades pass while highlighting time. Our lives are an ongoing process; preservation is important. ‘My paintings will last at least 200 to 300 years.’

This energetic artist knows her craft wet and dry. She willingly shares her knowledge and is happy to discuss any and all aspects of art. Susan takes pleasure in subjects that are open to interpretation. Overt objects may be a mask to covert meanings. It may be playful, dramatic, mysterious or a philosophical conceptualisation of time and motion. An ethereal whimsy nourishes an eternal feeling of goodness and gratefulness – a gift.

Susan concluded her tour and music began. A CD stereo flute. No! it is in fact a musician playing the flute near a painting. In the painting a flute player enchants the Earth and us with a gleeful, profound innocence.
And here is the very model for the musician in the painting. Alice Sea.
Alice Sea 001, 002
 Alice Sea said she and Susan went to many different locations looking for  suitable scenes. On the grass, in trees. It was fun, she smiles at the memory.
Not only is Alice a flautist, she plays guitar, other instruments and sings.

For more information: – Blog, DVD’s, Workshops, Free Lessons – Bio, Blog, Music and Song, Tours

Lee Switzer: Lee is a regular contributor to ARTbop – photo essays, articles and poetry. Lee is multi-talented producing sought-after images of local artists and exhibitions. He has been an archival photographer around Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty for some years – the details of this body of work are below. You can find examples of Lee’s contributions in our ARTbop archives.

More photos by Lee Switzer

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AND WHILE YOU’RE HERE, TAKE A LOOK AT OUR MOST RECENT VIDEO:   Poet and talented conversationalist Dhaivat Mehta speaking with Psyko T






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