Creative chemistry

PUBLISHED: 10:49 05 May 2015 | UPDATED: 10:49 05 May 2015

Jewellery maker Susi Hines and artist Doug Selway both have their studios in their home.

Jewellery maker Susi Hines and artist Doug Selway both have their studios in their home.

Lucy Etherington meets Susi Hines and Doug Selway, artists whose personal and professional alchemy inspires their work

Artist Doug Selway works in his home studio on pieces for an upcoming show.Artist Doug Selway works in his home studio on pieces for an upcoming show.

When I visit the home of jewellery maker Susi Hines and her artist husband Doug Selway, on the Suffolk/Essex border, I feel like I’m entering an 18th century alchemist’s lair.

Some parts are like an eccentric museum, with shelves and cabinets crammed with curiosities. Others are a charming, cosy family home with richly coloured walls displaying exquisite drawings, many by Susi and Doug, or their friends. My attention is split between looking around me in wonder and paying attention to my charming hosts.

It makes sense when you begin to explore their work. Susi’s exquisite jewellery is inspired by early Renaissance scientific instruments. Delightfully they open up, the rings come apart and spin like planets, bracelets contain entire worlds in miniature.

Doug’s is a kind of intricate and sprawling 3D map of the unconscious, combining animated set design, film, sculpture, performance art and drawings.

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“People assume that ideas come from the ether,” he says, “but they come from hard work, repetition and tweaking, more akin to scientific method.”

Doug’s garage studio is a surrealist mechanical fairground of moving shadows and animated figures in cabinets, while Susi’s workshop at the front of the house – where ordinary folk would stick a couple of sofas and a TV – is a creative laboratory, shelves packed with unusual collections of strange and wonderful objects.

“Work is central to our lives,” explains Doug, now in the kitchen preparing lunch. “When we met, I had two children from my previous marriage, so we sat down and worked out how we could carry on working with the same intensity, but not take anything away from our relationships. It’s a really hard thing to achieve.”

They met when teaching at Kingsway College in Clerkenwell in the 1990s, where I can imagine they were inspiring tutors. “It was basically a feeder for the London Art Schools,” says Doug. “Amazing people were coming through. The Sex pistols were just before us.”

“When we lived in London we drew our ideal live/work space and had it on the wall in our house for ages,” says Susi. “Then we came to Suffolk and found it. It was basically this house.”

They clearly love the stimulation of academic life, regularly holding soirees for students, academics and fellow artists where they cook and drink and show their latest work.

“They’re a tough crowd,” says Doug. “But my work is interactive so it’s important to try it out, see what works and what doesn’t. Also, I’ve always tried to surround myself with people who are smarter than me in the hope it will rub off.”

A touch of modesty perhaps – Doug has a degree in English and is not afraid of deep philosophical concepts, while Susi has a psychology degree. But at heart he says he is the working class boy who wants to put food on the table: not something that sits easily with the life of an artist.

“If you want to be an accountant, there’s a process you follow,” he says. “But there is no map for a creative life. You have to be extremely pragmatic but also free enough to create. I never have a problem generating ideas.”

Susi is also very much inspired by others, particularly her clients, with whom she often collaborates.

“Each one pushes me that bit further,” she says. “For example, the Mutabilis ring which comes apart was inspired by a dancer who needed to be able to remove the stone while performing. People love playing with rings, but also you can rearrange it depending how you feel. You can wear it any number of ways.”

The design is so unusual, it has its own patent. Each piece – even the tiny gold earrings she’s wearing – is a work of art, and it’s not just me who thinks that. Last year, Susi was thrilled to be approached by the Royal Academy to exhibit with Anslem Kiefer. “He’s an idol of mine, so it was an incredible thing to happen,” she says.

Now, both are preparing for upcoming shows. Doug’s Shelf Lives is at the Martello Tower in Jaywick, Essex, where he will be an artist in residence from April 27, hosting various fabulously bizarre and mind-bending activities and workshops (see details on his website, including family friendly Bring a Thing Day on May 24, and leading up to a main event and film screening on the May bank holiday weekend.

Susi is making new work for a major show in Cambridge, Massachussets, on May 1, but can also be seen at G2, The Suffolk Craft Society gallery in Ipswich Town Hall as well as in Bircham Gallery in Holt, Norfolk and various others in London and Bristol (see her website for more information

I’m touched, since they’re so busy, that they’ve not only taken time to talk to me, but also cooked a delicious soup, which we now sit down and eat. So what’s it like when they are both under pressure?

“We can read each other so well,” says Susi. “We regulate each other. If I’m stuck, Doug can tell and he’ll take me out for a drive to clear my head.”

Clearly it’s all about chemistry – not just in the work, but between the two of them.

“Susi has changed me,” says Doug. “Our relationship is crucial to our work. We inspire and challenge each other. We’re truthful, which can be hard, but as long as you do it with warmth and integrity.”

“I really think even though we’re getting older we’re producing our most exciting work right now,” says Susi. “I don’t ever want to stop.”

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