Cambridge artist Susan Abbs captures light in a time of darkness
Susan Abbs was born in Singapore and has lived in the UK for 27 years. Missing the sun and heat, she has been drawn to the sky and landscape in her painting.
Moving to Cambridge in 2012, artist Susan Abbs has continued to be inspired by our landscapes and skies, producing two series of artworks – ‘Camlife’ and ‘Skygazing’ – in tribute.
Also the same year, Susan, a regular participant at Cambridge Open Studios, became the first local artist in residence at Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham.
She says: “I grew up in Singapore surrounded by skyscrapers and trees, so coming to Cambridge was a bit of a shock because it’s so flat and there’s so much sky.
“It was something very new to me, and I think for a while I struggled to find my voice. Eventually that led to the Skygazing series, which you can see on my website.”
At the end of 2019, Susan was diagnosed with cancer. “I went through cancer treatment during the pandemic,” she explains, adding: “Addenbrooke’s has been amazing – I couldn’t ask to have better care. So because of that I have been in isolation for about a year...
“With the cancer, things stopped for me, art-wise, and then the pandemic happened so everything just stopped – exhibitions were all cancelled, art fairs, everything.
“Also I teach life drawing at Hills Road and that was cancelled, and I was teaching art in my studio – again, I had to cancel. So it was quite a big change.”
Susan, who also does commissions – she is working on one of Beechwoods for somebody at present – adds: “I’ve always been very healthy so to suddenly be very ill was a real shock to the system, and for a while I found it hard to accept.
“I went on Instagram and talked about my cancer and the support that I got was really amazing, both from artists and from people I didn’t know. People are so kind.”
Susan is now in remission. She says: “Art-wise, I think the cancer has affected me a lot... I’m trying to get stronger and am starting paint again, trying to find my voice again.”
When it comes to her delightful landscapes, Susan does venture outside to do open-air painting but notes: “I’m from the tropics so I don’t do well with cold! So in the summer I like to go out and take lots of pictures and then use the photos as inspiration to produce my paintings.”
Susan mostly paints in her studio annexe, which is also where her art lessons take place. She hopes to be able to start up the classes again soon, at home and at Hills Road.
At the time of speaking, Susan had been told that classes at the school might start again, all being well, in May.
She lives in the southern area of the city, near Addenbrooke’s, and says that a lot of the sky scenes that she paints tend to have the Addenbrooke’s tower in them “because it’s so distinctive”.
“I see the tower all the time, and for me it’s a very big symbol of Cambridge. Despite it being so big, it is tiny when you look at the whole sky – it’s just beautiful,” she says.
“We live near the park and we walk the dog sometimes at sunset, and it’s amazing. You don’t need TV, just look at the sky – it’s so beautiful. I find it so inspiring and I feel so lucky to be here.”
To find out more about Susan and her artwork, visit susanabbs.co.uk.