P l a c e n t i a
The Stephen Lawrence Gallery
Greenwich University, Old Royal Naval College Campus
10 March to 4 April 2003
This exhibition of paintings, which opened on International Women's Day, 8 March 2003, was inspired by the name Placentia and touched on feelings of female vulnerability.  Haire's work draws heavily on chance with images of fragility and anguish emerging through bleeding, dripping, squirting and throwing paint.  Female sexual forms, some delicate and flower-like, contrast with others that are more violent and bloody but all these intimations of womb or wound have a paradoxical tenderness and subtlety.

Greenwich Palace was given the affectionate name of La Pleazaunce because of its magnificent setting and the name was later Latinised to Placentia.  Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were both born in the Palace of Placentia and they both regarded it as their favourite residence.

The Stephen Lawrence Gallery takes its ethos from the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry and addresses such issues as race and gender and promotes, through its exhibitions, a mutual-respect and tolerance that cross all ethnic and cultural boundaries.

Placentia:  a startling exhibition of paintings
Review by Danielle Blyfield, March 2003
Susan Haire's paintings imprint themselves on the mind like bright lights on a closed eyelid; they are a repetition of red and crimson gashes, disappearing, deep and intense, behind the pale and delicately veined foreground.  "You are looking at a secret hidden space that has all sorts of treasures in it", says the artist.

At first sight and on a simplistic level the images might be seen as shocking but look closer and delicate flowers and overlapping petals appear.  The paintings are gory, yet subtle, with different shades of reds and pinks giving depth and contrasting with the flimsy, delicate tracery of whites, pinks and violets, through which the void is viewed.  They are fragile, tender and lacy on one level, bloody and brutal on the other.

"I work very much with chance, dripping, flicking and squirting colours to build up the painting", Susan explained.  For most of the Placentia paintings Susan started by painting a delicate watercolour 'flower' form.  Then, sometimes masking the image, sometimes wiping away the wet paint, she continued, using chance and the movement of the paint, to create layer upon layer, adding depth and complexity, constantly pushing the painting forwards.

For Susan, the work is representative of female vulnerability and the strength involved in opening one's self up to experiencing pain, your own and that of others.  "A dear poet friend of mine underwent a particularly nasty back operation last year…this (pointing at a painting) is the wound."  The paintings represent the pain and the brutality of the surgery her friend suffered and our human vulnerability to pain. Some feminists might find this idea of female vulnerability unacceptable, disempowering, but Susan says, "Through our vulnerability and a willingness to experience pain, comes women's strength and our capacity for compassion.  I would like the viewer to have an awareness of the pain, but also to be touched by the poignancy and delicacy of the paintings."

This is an exciting and thought provoking exhibition, which sits on a knife-edge between brutality and fragility.

Three collaborative events for Placentia presented in the gallery:  

Sarah Scutt and Johanna Olsson, two female students from Trinity College of Music (which shares the Old Royal Naval College with Greenwich University) performed Mind and Body, written for Placentia. A recording of this music played in the gallery throughout the exhibition.

Poems for Placentia written and read by Jane Kingshill with musical improvisation in response to the paintings by Danny Kingshill.

A meditation led by Karen Best with improvisation by Danny Kingshill weaving around Karen's talking and the silences.

A one-day painting workshop took place in the gallery for students in the Community Arts Department of Greenwich University led by Susan Haire.
Danielle Blyfield is a freelance writer and researcher, specialising in Art and Design History.  She is happy to receive commissions for research, articles and exhibition statements and catalogues
Tel: 01689 877846
Mobile: 077 66 233 683
Godfried Donkor, July 2003:
Danielle Blyfield was the research assistant on my most recent exhibition at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery.  I found her easy to work with, as she understood the nature of art practice and the importance of links in research.  Her ideas and suggestions were inspiring and her enthusiasm throughout the period remained high.  She helped me develop the theme of the exhibition after reading a book we were researching.  I look forward to more collaboration.