The Drawings of Susan Te Kahurangi King

Image of The Drawings of Susan Te Kahurangi King
Release Date: 
November 30, 2016
ICA Miami
Reviewed by: 

“. . . a lesson about knowing what it takes to be an artist. A lesson about accepting and respecting our unique stories and points of view.”

The Drawings of Susan Te Kahurangi King is much more than a scholarly organization of artwork. It is actually a story full of life, conflict, creation, and inspiration. While Tina Kukielski was the primary contributor and editor, she shared space with insightful contributions from artistic professionals Chris Bryne, Alex Gartenfeld, Gary Panter, and Amy Sillman as well as with members of the King family. This book is a beautiful and fascinating story of an unlikely artist and the family that embraced her with unconditional love and support.

Susan King’s drawings are certainly rich, intense, and mesmerizing in and of themselves. But they gain depth and admiration when accompanied by Susan King’s life story. The drawings and the artist are symbiotic: To know Susan King one must see her drawings, to know her drawings one must see Susan King. This collection does a remarkable job in presenting both together.

In short, King, born in 1951, is the second oldest child of a family of 12 children from a rural village in Te Aroha, New Zealand. Around the age of five or six, she was pulled out of school and sent off to doctors to try to diagnose her psychological state, which today is commonly known as autistic. By the age of eight King had stopped speaking. Her family noticed that her artwork was what made her tick, and they rallied around her to support her innate, self-driven abilities. Her grandmother even kept a journal about King, her apparent moods, likes, dislikes, and daily drawing styles or interests.

Although there were extended periods during which King did not draw much or at all, like during the 1970s when she was employed at the “Opportunity Workshop” making wool rugs. Or during the 1990s when she was enduring an emotional lull and drew nothing at all. However, in 2008 she picked up a pencil and went back to it. Her drawings became her method of communicating around which her daily life revolved.

And she has plenty to communicate. Strong organic lines, bold yet balanced color, distorted stylized shapes and imagery, repetitive patterns and textures, and an intuitive sense of scale and expression elevates King from simple childlike scribbles to a mature artist with a voice and a deep need to communicate her thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams. All presented in a way that all artists only wish they could work: unfiltered and uninhibited.

The Drawings of Susan Te Kahurangi King is a lesson about knowing what it takes to be an artist. A lesson about accepting and respecting our unique stories and points of view. This lesson is so simple, so important, yet so frustrating to those of us in our right minds. Susan King is an inspiration to us all to be ourselves, do what we love to do, create what we need to create and be enthralled by the process.

Accompanying this book are exhibitions of Susan King’s art at the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, Florida (also the book’s publisher) and the Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York City. Her artwork is displayed in New Zealand, Australia, France, Belgium, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. There is also a 2012 documentary about Susan King by Octopus Pictures titled Pictures of Susan directed by Dan Salmon.