Film celebrates self-taught artist
4 July 2012
A documentary exploring the life and artwork of Susan Te Kahurangi King, an Auckland artist who hasn’t spoken since the age of four, will premiere on 22 July as part of the New Zealand 2012 International Film Festival.
Pictures of Susan is directed by Dan Salmon, an award-winning filmmaker. He went to school with Susan's sister, Rachel, and through this connection discovered an online archive of Susan's work several years ago. This became his inspiration to share her story.
The resulting documentary is a journey of the past three-and-a-half years, which celebrates the “rich inner life” of the self-taught artist, and the development and proliferation of her work. Dan says it is also a “tribute to the energy and love” of the family that is her life-blood.
Susan’s body of work totals more than 10,000 pieces. These range from early character-based drawings to her recent style of more subtle, pattern-based works. Buildings, slides, churches and characters are woven into complex arrangements of patterns and shapes.
Her work can be appreciated on many different levels but Salmon was “intent on trying to honour her works as artworks”.
The artist’s work has been discovered recently by the international art world, and has been shown in Sydney and New York. Now, a selection of her work is on show at MADmusée in Liège, Belgium as part of an exhibition of self-taught New Zealand artists, curated by Stuart Shepherd.
Stuart, who features in Pictures of Susan, is an expert and a passionate advocate of self-taught art. “Susan’s work belongs in Te Papa,” he says, “but often local artists have to achieve recognition internationally before their work is validated in New Zealand.”
Stuart says he eventually convinced Susan’s family to allow him to display her work at MADmusée – something that he hopes will raise her profile, both here and overseas.
Pictures of Susan provides a glimpse into the ethical dilemma faced by Susan's family as they foster and share her art. The path that artists normally take through curators, collectors and galleries is not so easy to follow when the artist cannot communicate her wishes for her artwork.
As such, ownership remains with the family and the works stay together as a cohesive portfolio. Dan says that the inability to purchase small collections means that Susan risks going unnoticed by mainstream galleries and institutions.
He hopes that audiences can share in his experience of "feeling richer for having known Susan".
Pictures of Susan is showing in Auckland on 22 and 25 July, and in Wellington on 5 and 7 August.