My Artistic Journey From Performance To Visual Art

Sue Boardman
Sue Boardman – Nimbin - Australia

I have always been interested in looking at my immediate environment in a critical way. While still at school I used to be always looking at houses and gardens on my way home from school trying to decide which ones I liked best. I didn't realise at the time that I was developing a critical faculty.

Music had a similar attraction but despite studying piano for a number of years I realised that music was not where any talent I had lay.

I desperately wanted to be an “artist” but had no idea how to do it. This insecurity was compounded by my years of studying Fine Arts at Sydney University. University was a negative experience for me. It undermined what little self-belief I had.

It was only in my mid twenties I discovered a mentor who helped me develop my skills in a positive way. This was in the field of creative movement and dance drama, not visual arts.
I went along one night to a class run by Margaret Barr in the back lanes of Annandale, an inner suburb of Sydney. She was in her seventies at this point and had her own performing group, the Margaret Barr Dance Drama Group. I was hooked that first night and performed with the group for the next four years. This was my apprenticeship in developing an artistic practice and holding firm to my own vision.

I remember one night we had an argument. I let fly at her. Her reply, “At last, some emotion!”
After I left Sydney for the Northern Rivers area we corresponded up to a few months before her death in 1991. On one occasion I wrote to Margaret concerned that I had performed my self-choreographed movement piece “The Bucket Dance” (1986) and the audience had laughed long and loudly. I thought I was being “serious”. Margaret wrote back, “You’re lucky. No one ever thought I was funny!”
This was a revelation. I decided to embrace it.

This led to many self-choreographed comedic movement performances over the next twenty five years. It also led to my involvement in not only directing but also set and costume design for theatre in the Northern Rivers area.

Eventually my aging body let me know that it was time to put my leotards away. This was cause of some relief to me as I had always suffered from nerves and the chiropractic bills were mounting up.
A return to my first love, visual arts, seemed a natural segue.

At first I was unsure what I wanted to “do” in visual arts. What was my style? Did I have a theme? What did I want to say? Did I have anything to say? Could I do anything that people wanted to look at? The questions were endless.

The only way to tackle my dilemma was to jump in and do it.

I was lucky to have the full support of my partner Michael Hannan. Michael’s response to my efforts was not uncritical which at first was daunting. Ultimately though it spurred me on to work harder and taught me both to defend my artistic decisions and to listen to someone else’s response to my work as a way of becoming a better artist.

I had witnessed for many years Michael’s struggle as a new music composer. He inspired me, like Margaret Barr, because both pursued their vision and embraced their uniqueness.
I figured if I worked hard I couldn’t help but get better as an artist.

And so my new journey began.

We have a large subtropical garden. It requires hard work and observation of the natural world. This was my starting point for finding the focus of my visual art practice. There are apparent patterns in the natural world that when pursued dissolve into non-patterns. Patterns change every day in every light. Nothing stays the same. How wonderful.

I collected paperbark from the Melaleuca leucadendra tree and used it in my art practice. First I had to get rid of all the insects living in the bark. I want to reassure people that I only used the bark that had already fallen off the trees.

I was then fascinated by the layers on the floor of our garden and when looking through foliage. This led to painting layers on canvas & scratching/rubbing back to create not only texture and depth but also the mystery of what is going on behind those layers of paint.

Then I created my own secret language. I wanted to write down all those thoughts that I could not say in real life. Great fun. With this new alphabet I could create intricate patterns over painted surfaces. 

Many people tried to work out my secret language. None have so far succeeded. Phew!

In the last two exhibitions I have held with four other artists (Michael Hannan, Merle Rankin, Sue Sawkins, & Pauline Ahern) at the Roxy Gallery in Kyogle I have responded to both music and haiku poetry.

This has been a very interesting experience. I found the haiku poems led me to a more literal interpretation of the words. Music allowed me to explore the abstract. I also discovered that having the focus of either words or music for my artistic expression forced me to explore my medium in ways I had not thought of before.

Everything is “grist to the mill”.

I am still not sure what my “style” is. Intricacy is part of it. Hopefully “fun” plays a part. I don’t want to put limits on my imagination by labelling myself. Change is inevitable. Exploration hopefully never stops.

Image 1 – Resonance Fire (acrylic)

Image 2 – Birds Calling in Cloud Valley – 2 (pencil-acrylic)

Image 3 – Detail of Birds Calling in Cloud Valley (pencil-acrylic) 

Image 4 – The Brown Man (acrylic)

Image 5 – Resonance Earth (acrylic)

Image 6 – Floating (acrylic-weeping paperbark)

Image 7 – Vortex (acrylic-glue-bangalow palm-weeping paperbark)

Image 8 – Bird’s Eye View (acrylic)

 Image 9 – Clouds Now and Then 1 (acrylic)

Image 10 – Desert Dance (acrylic)
Sue Boardman is an artist based in Nimbin, Northern NSW, Australia. She has a Fine Art Degree from the University of Sydney. Her work is held in numerous collections and she exhibits regularly in local galleries and special art shows. Her inspiration is mainly from the wondrous beautiful world of nature. Sue may be contacted at:
Sue Boardman <>

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