PaperCity Magazine

June 2017 - Dallas

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DOUG KING COURTESY THE ARTIST AND CHRIS BYRNE 71 INNER WORLDS Dianne Cash In Maori, Susan King's mystical middle name, Te Kahurangi, means "the treasured one." Her parents were enamored with New Zealand's native people, among whom they lived and worked. Her father was a self-taught Maori language scholar whose day job was an editor at a publishing company; her mother was an avid gardener, one-time Maori Sunday school teacher, and, above all, a homemaker to a close-knit brood of 12 children. Susan, the second oldest, was the first-born daughter. She came along in 1951, when her parents were residing in a small farming community, Te Aroha, on New Zealand's North Island. The artist's tale is improbable and fated, laid out in the recent volume The Drawings of Susan Te Kahurangi King (Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, 2016). The book details King's rise to art world prominence despite severe autism spectrum disorder and the geographical disadvantage of living in Auckland, far from the art action. One must credit the role her family played, lovingly and meticulously preserving drawings from her earliest childhood and relocating the family to Auckland so their daughter could enroll in a special-needs school. King kept up her drawing over the decades, except for a 20-year hiatus when she suddenly stopped taking pencil and pen to paper in the early 1990s. She fortuitously resumed in 2008, on the occasion of a film being made about her work (Pictures of Susan, Octopus Pictures, released 2012). In 2013, artist Gary Panter of Pee-wee's Playhouse fame discovered her work via Facebook and brought it to the attention of Chris Byrne. Due to Byrne's curatorial acumen and persistence, King has now been introduced to a wider public, including exhibitions at the Outsider Art Fair (Paris and New York, beginning in 2013) and a solo at Andrew Edlin Gallery in Manhattan in 2014, which garnered glowing reviews in Hyperallergic, Huffington Post, Art in America, and The New York Times. Thanks to Byrne, King is represented today by Edlin, who is known as the dealer for self-taught artists. While the discovery of King is a captivating narrative, the drawings themselves are what stand up to the story. Sure-footed, yet not straightforward, they lead the viewer through a dizzying array of perspectives, introducing characters from TV and pop culture (Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny to Fanta Man, the brand ambassador of a soda pop), while varying in viewpoint and style from lyrical, inventive close-ups to more complex, dense arrays of mark-making that resemble a landscape. The outsider artist has achieved insider status and been compared to 20th-century Pop master Roy Lichtenstein, as well as today's painters who embed cartoon imagery in their canvases, such as Joyce Pensato and Sue Williams. We predict Marlborough's solo for King will continue the spiral of recognition, serving as an antidote to what the jaded art world needs. What began as a disability, can be seen as a gift of seeing the world through her drawing. One aside: I met and broke bread with King when she traveled to the U.S. last year. We connected on Labor Day, along with her sister and brother-in-law, Petita and Bryson Cole, and a Houston artist pal, Susan Plum, who has exhibited in New Zealand. The dinnertime visit at Brenner's on the Bayou, selected for its green space, was memorable and authentic. King seemed to be taking it all in, joining with gusto. But sans speech, it was impossible to know what she was thinking. At the end of the night, dropping the family off at their Galleria hotel, she unexpectedly gave Plum and me a hug. It was an evening to be remembered — and cherished. Read Chris Byrne's Q&A with King's sister, Petita Cole, at This month, visionary artist Susan Te Kahurangi King, who has autism spectrum disorder and has not fully spoken for more than 50 years, makes her European gallery debut at Marlborough Contemporary London (June 1 – July 1). Dallas Art Fair co-founder Chris Byrne curates her show. Catherine D. Anspon reports. Susan in Te Aroha, New Zealand, circa 1959 Susan Te Kahurangi King's Untitled, 1963-1967, at Marlborough Contemporary London

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