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Pulling the tape off a finished work is a satisfying – if somewhat mysterious – process for Susan Delaney. Don’t ask how she knows that she’s done.

Never Mined: Digging for Meaning in Expressive Art is a Blind Shaft

What do you get when you cross an art scholar, art journalist and practising artist?

Someone who is expertly unable to say what her art means.

Susan Delaney has held those three roles and more in her lifetime association with art and artists. But those who seek meaning in her expressive and abstract images – and plenty ask about it, even her mom – won’t hear a lengthy discourse on life, the universe or anything.

“I’m inclined to say, ‘Nothing,’” she says, adding that her typical response is to ask simply if they like it.

Delaney’s approach to making art is intuitive, from the gut. If there’s a meaning there, it’s as hidden from her as our subconscious thoughts and motivations are hidden from all of us. And she’s not alone.

Delaney grew up in an environment of expressive, loose, and abstract art in London, Ontario, in the 1970s. It was a national hotbed for painters on the leading edge of the palette knife, and her mother worked in the public gallery that exhibited many of them.

Greg Curnoe, Paterson Ewen (who taught Delaney at the University of Western Ontario) and Roly Fenwick were part of the community. Paddy O’Brien was a relative, and her work was even displayed in the family home.

“That was the milieu that was in the public gallery then.”

Pulling the tape off a finished work is a satisfying – if somewhat mysterious – process for Susan Delaney. Don’t ask how she knows that she’s done.

When the time came to choose a university program, art history seemed a natural selection. After graduating from UWO with an Honours BA, Delaney became an art writer and critic. She held that supplementary career alongside both motherhood and, eventually, working for Nova Chemicals, until she became a practising artist herself.

As a writer, her goal was to make art accessible to everyone, and not just contribute to an obscure, elitist game among academics. What she learned, though, was that the motivations and drives that writers often attributed to artists really weren’t there.

“It was a real eye-opener for me, because I learned that artists don’t think the way that art critics and academics accuse them of thinking – at all,” she says. “There’s a lot of hindsight involved.” Inspirations come without explanations. It’s only after the fact that the purpose or motivation for art might surface, if at all.

After getting an art diploma from Red Deer College in 2008, Delaney discovered the same inscrutability in her own creative process. She has developed her own style (although she’s not sure what it is), loves abstraction and layering mixed media, and has exhibited in nearly every local gallery, even as far away as Vancouver. But she struggles to describe why she keeps some pieces but paints over others.

“I’ve learnt a lot about how not to write about art since I became an art maker.”

That said, Delaney admits she finds insight in her friends’ feedback. In telling her what they see and like, they sometimes uncover something “that has bubbled up somewhere,” she says.

“When someone interprets your art and it’s exactly what your psychoanalyst has been saying, you know something is going on,” she adds with a laugh.

One of Susan Delaney’s recent art series depicts people in the style of old black-and-white photographs.