Susan McFarlane

Susan McFarlane

John Kinross Scholar in 1994

How did the experience affect you as an individual? 

At the time of receiving the John Kinross Scholarship my world was Scotland. I’m from Glasgow and I studied at Edinburgh College of Art. I had, of course, visited other countries on holiday, including Italy, but the experience of actually staying somewhere abroad,  with a host family and being immersed in the language and culture, did have an impact. It helped me to grow up a little I think. I remember the Italian Institute in Edinburgh, helping to organise study at a language school. The language school was so close to the Duomo that we could actually see it from the class window. I met other young people from other European countries, Spain, Germany, France, and I felt plunged in at the deep end, in a good way.

What was the impact on your practice? 

The impact was on both the theory and practise of my work. At school I was first introduced to the Italian Renaissance. I went on to study History of Art at Edinburgh University (I did the combined degree in Fine Art at ECA), I have always had a strong interest in the early Italian Renaissance. This interest would lead to me teaching A Level History of Art in my first job after I left art school. Experiencing the art and architecture firsthand, in most cases, in the context for which it was created, was incredible.

Susan McFarlane, Britta, Florence, 1994, pencil on paper, 59.3 x 41.5cm, RSA Collection

I am a figurative painter, seeing the figurative groupings in the frescoes of Giotto, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, exploring the pursuit of geometric simplicity in the paintings Della Francesca and the imaginative and decorative scenes of Botticelli, amongst others, have had a lifelong impact on my work. But, more than this it was the Early Renaissance artists’ approach to working from nature, looking again at age old subject matter and breathing life into these themes by looking and looking again. I am an artist interested in representing the world around me, friends, family, landscape and objects that I hold dear. While I was in Italy, I made copious drawings from observation, whether the buildings around me, or the people I met. I still have a collection of the work from this time.

What would you say the long-term impact has been on yourself and you work? 

I think going abroad on my own, finding my feet, gave me confidence and helped me grow as a person. I was certainly more ready to make the move to London to start my postgraduate at The Slade after spending the summer abroad in Italy. It gave me impetus to keep going after my degree show at Edinburgh and fuelled my postgraduate work ( I would go on to spend two years in the life room at The Slade).

The tremendous change in Art that took place in Florence in the Renaissance, which saw artists hone their craft, question age-old tradition and look afresh, continues to inspire me in my approach to my painting.