Susan Stringfellow was born in the 1960s and grew up in Cheltenham. She is a trained nurse who specialised in oncology working at the royal Marsden in London. After this, she went on to train as a social worker and worked for many years in mental health care.
Later, she also became a counsellor for one-to-one work. This has influenced her artwork and has continued to grow her passion for helping people to improve their own mental health, often by making art for themselves. She is also an art activist, campaigning for better services in the mental health sector as well as the de-stigmatization of the subject.
“Her work often offers an experience or interaction element”
She currently lives in Southampton with her husband and has two adult children, one of whom suffers from a mental illness. This personal connection to the subject matter she works with has given her even more drive and determination to see change in our society and to be a force for that change.
In her academic life, Susan has completed a fine art degree, various city and guild courses in embroidery and has recently gained a master’s degree in textiles. During her course, she explored the idea of using experimental art to raise awareness of what it may be like to suffer with mental health issues. This resulted in her development of her own brand or symbol, the neuron. It represents the suffering and fragility experienced due to ill mental health. Much of her work uses the image of the neuron, sometimes subtly and sometimes without disguise. As well as the neuron, her work often offers an experience or interactional element. Such as; listening to an interpretation of what it may be like to hear voices or wearing a jacket with weights to represent the experience of depression.
The themes I explore are mainly raising awareness of an issue and/or challenging that issue. The specific topic that I am looking at, at this time, is mental ill health and how it effects the sufferer. I am interested in how the illness itself affects the sufferer and how the attitudes of society towards the sufferer, affect the sufferer.
In the past, Susan’s work has been interactive, where she has encouraged the public to handle the work and even wear the work.
An example being when she made a jacket that was very heavily weighted down, which was there to represent what it may feel like to have depression. Another item of clothing that she made was a cape with headphones stitched into the hood. Playing through these headphones via an MP3 player was a simulation of what it might be like to experience hearing intrusive voices. Susan understood from people who unfortunately do hear voices and listened to the simulation, that it was a very accurate representation of the real thing.
Susan tries to use a mix of multiple materials, but her new piece mostly consists of thread. However, she is using more metals and pyrography within this project/piece as well.