How to commemorate both the deaths of the four demolition workers killed at Didcot Power Station in 2006, while noting the historical context of the famous landmark and its local importance was a complex brief for Suzanne O’Driscoll.
And while the Bladon artist was used to taking on big public commissions’ (her work can be seen in P&O cruise liners, the John Radcliffe, Cowley Road and Cutteslowe’s Oxford Meadow housing estate to name but a few), Suzanne understood the integrity needed for the job.
“RWE energy company wanted a memorial to the men who lost their lives but also to demonstrate how integral the power station has been to Didcot,” Suzanne says.
“Because although the power station has often been called an eyesore, now it’s gone people miss it, it was a familiar landmark, so I did a lot of research and then started piecing things together.”
The resulting three stainless steel pieces ‘Didcot “A” Power Station, History and Memorial‘ now hang at Didcot Civic Hall overlooking the memorial rose garden.
And while the grand official opening had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, the results are up on the walls and embedded in the path for all to see, a reminder of the power station’s indomitable former presence, and the tragedy that occurred there.
Suzanne tells me all this from the sanctity of her artist’s studio in Bladon where she’s preparing to open for Oxfordshire Artweeks for the next two weekends (Sat 21 May – Sun 22 May and Wed 25 – Sun 29 May).
Public work aside, Suzanne’s paintings and pastels are full of colour and life, sourced mainly from her travels, most recently in Canada.
“The landscapes are just so vast there. Canada is covered in lakes and forests, and rather unsettling compared to our groomed countryside. So I wanted to get across that vastness, beauty and mystery which just hits you in the face.
During lockdown Suzanne also looked closer to home for inspiration, and fell in love with her own garden. Situated in an old quarry it provided more than enough subject matter to keep her occupied. “It was good to be painting again. I realised it’s what I love and what I’m happiest doing,” she says.
All of which you can now see as she opens her studio for the final round of Oxfordshire Artweeks with 50 pieces exhibited, including installations, and examples of her public art including a piece for the new Marcham Centre, another big challenge as all the meetings about the commissioned work had to be done over Zoom. “It was lovely to have a project like this to throw oneself into,” she says.
So how is she feeling about meeting the public again and opening her studio up once more? “Well it’s forced me to have a tidy up which is good,” she laughs,” but also to look at what I’ve got and what I’ve been doing for the past three years.
“Artweeks really does focus you. It gives you ideas and makes you assess where you are. So there will be work depicting New York, Asia, Canada, public works, prints and cards – a real cross section of art, media and prices.
“But more than that its really important, as important as the public art, because once I’ve finished a piece it’s out there and I need people to see it. So it’s been a good experience getting ready, I needed it this year.”
Suzanne O’ Driscoll’s open studio runs from Sat 21 May – Sun 22 May and Wed 25 – Sun 29 May at Quarry Place, Grove Rd, Bladon. OX20 1RD. Go to https://www.artweeks.org/v/suzanne-odriscoll for more information or https://www.suzanneodriscoll.com