Susan Torrance is a 4th Year Painting & Printmaking student studying at GSA. Take a step inside the research of Susan as she talks us through cattle culture and her highland roots, alongside the last five images on her phone gallery.

Portrait of Susan photographed by Nicky Murray (


Tell us a bit about yourself and where you're based.

I am a woman by birth and choice, but am sometimes confused by other people with maleness because of my height – I am over 6 ft and also because one breast was removed through cancer. The other one could have gone as well, but I’m glad it was saved. I haven’t worn a bra for about 3 years – no-one notices - and I am really invisible as Hito Steyerl pointed out because I am (well !) over 50 and female. Most of all I am a Highlander. And I love dancing.

Jawbone' 2020, Palette knife, oil paint on an acrylic ground, 1m x 1.2m, made at home studio


What do you make & how do you make it?

My work evolves around stories from images I have taken – usually on walks or things I see or conversations or experiences. I have no fixed media although my preference is paint as a starting point. For something I am really interested in, I will make a series of interconnected works which can be exhibited together or separately. Cows or rather the culture of cattle and “cattlemen” (many are women) saturate a major aspect of my work, as my family were cattle dealers and I bred Highland Cattle for 20 years. Not about shortbread tins. Performance pieces come from an early training in elocution and being made to go on stages from 8 onwards. My ideal works amalgamate interconnected pieces as assets for a performance – one offs but filmed - with my own words and possibly music for the grand finale. I paint on large surfaces, usually with a ground, combining different images. I also really enjoy just using a palette knife and smearing on paint. I establish an image quite quickly as well as the colour palette. Sometimes I want to stop but I go through a phase of overworking, then resurrecting the immediacy and urgency somehow. ​Connections are important. A current work is a large etching plate which will use images of a decaying tree smitten by Dutch Elm with elaborate tunnels from the invasion of beetles and fungus. This has led on to considering the terrible fate of the elms – 25 million at least destroyed through this plague from nature, with our current condition as humans, facing a natural plague in COVID. Unstoppable.

'Sally the Cow' 2020, Watercolour and collage on Paper, Study for Opera Set, 2m x 1.5m, made in the Stow studio


What has been your biggest challenge to navigate?

This is easy – self belief and confidence. A little voice is constantly saying to me, “what are you doing here ? – look how amazing everyone else’s stuff is – you are just pretending“. As a result I motor on with as much work as I can, leading sometimes to the criticism that I am not as self-critical as I should be. I am not good at listening to criticism, constructive or otherwise with the result that I feel sometimes in a bit of a void – I know where I want to go, but I’ve no idea if anyone else wants to go there with me !


How do you think your practice sits in today's context?

Urgh – that is difficult given my previous comments! My work wants to link people with ideas and truths they may not have considered – the cycle of rearing cattle for meat consumption and still crueller, dairy produce, is a harsh and brutal one. The other side of the story is the nobility and care that many farmers invest in what they do, but it doesn’t take away from the ultimate reason for them breeding and killing animals. I do struggle sometimes with the “non-obvious” message school of artworks and their connections – leading people subtly to a conclusion. I want to shout it out, and can’t decide whether to give too much information to make it obvious or hide in symbolism and obscurity.

Susan's Brother, 2020, Oil Paint, gift for his 60th, 50cm x 60cm, made in home studio


What's next on your practice-agenda? Goals, projects or any upcoming shows perhaps?

After GSA, I really want to do a MA in Contemporary Art and Archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands, for many reasons, not least because these guys have been doing on-line learning for about 20 years. While based in Orkney, I can live and work in Glasgow, so it’s a winner if I can get in. I have been exhibiting with Julita Hanlon and Anuschka Barlas over the summer, and we hope in 2021 to pick up on two cancelled shows in Edinburgh and Inverness. Since 2nd year we have exhibited at RogArt Campus – great supportive venue so will probably have a repeat show there too. I shocked myself and actually sold some work there this year too.

Gravestone, Tomnahurich Cemetary, Inverness – My great grandfather and his family. 2020




Favourite studio food?

I’m on a diet – don’t tempt me chums !!

Something interesting you’ve seen this week?

On our Canal Walk – swans, mallards, goosanders, cormorants and moorhens all together in one spot – instant Bird Watching Sanctuary.

Final words of advice?

Don’t make history the endless repetition of the wrong way of doing things.

Children’s Wood, Kelvinside, Glasgow 2020 – preliminary location ideas of set for performance 2021


Keep up to date on Susan's work by following her on instagram at @sus.6095 and check out additional work through her website at