The Ranch is pleased to present a selection of early works by Susan Te Kahurangi King.
The earliest works in this exhibition date from 1958, when the artist was just seven years old. Extraordinarily, her quality of line and formal interests had already matured by that point: in an untitled work from that year, we see Daffy Duck depicted from below and head-on simultaneously, though he’s also cropped to just his midsection and legs. Another drawing from the same period zooms in on a series of cartoon hills and legs mixed with Kandinsky-esque triangles and arches.
By 1960, when King was nine, her compositions were complex balancing acts. One contains multiple Donald Ducks, his body shown from various perspectives at the same time, the figures surrounded by a colored landscape rendered in shards and bits. King’s oeuvre is as formally inventive as it is psychologically complex. She belongs to a lineage of synthesizers of abstraction and cartooning that includes Sue Williams, Karl Wirsum, Amy Sillman, and Joyce Pensato. All sought to decode and then re-engineer cartoon forms to reflect their own visions.
But compositionally, King’s pictures permit various points of entry, providing the viewer a license to interpret freely. We may recognize cartoon characters and humanoids, but the odd secret of icons like Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny, and Daffy Duck is that, embedded as they are in our cultural memory, they read however we want them to—invested with historical meaning or as hollow masks, purely formal agglomerations of shapes. She does not appropriate, she transforms. When she uses recognizable characters, she treats their bodies as things not only to be contorted as she pleases, but also to be viewed from multiple perspectives and through different lenses. King might also focus on minute, otherwise negligible parts of a funny animal comic book drawing—a suburban yard, say, instead of the actual figurative and narrative action—breaking it down to its formal elements: the curve of the knot in the tree, the curlicues of the foliage, the lumpy oval shape of a rock in the yard. All of these are arranged as though there is no gravity, no up or down, just a world of shapes and space. The result is that we appear to see a freeze-frame of a spatial action unfolding in the artist’s imagination: bodies, creatures, and objects cavorting and collapsing into one another.
Exhibition curated by Megan Kincaid
Born in New Zealand in 1951, Susan Te Kahurangi King stopped speaking around age four but drew prolifically through her thirties, when, suddenly, she stopped. In 2008, almost twenty years later, she resumed her work, picking up where she left off. Since then, King has continued her remarkable output of drawings in graphite, pencil, crayon, ink, and pens of various types. King’s family has supported her art making with unwavering faith and affection. One of a dozen children in a tumultuous household, her mother saved and preserved her drawings in trunks and cases. Some were dated and annotated. They have all been organized and catalogued. King's drawings and sketchbooks range from simple images to rich, fully drawn pages alive with complex textures that defy interpretation. Each piece reveals a profoundly active imagination and hints at the depth of King’s output, offering viewers a peek into her worlds and those she has yet to reveal.
The drawings presented in this exhibition were previously included in monographic shows at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami and Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider.
Susan Te Kahurangi King has exhibited her work internationally. She has been the subject of monographs at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL and Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago, IL. Her work resides in collections including: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Chartwell Collection; Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Auckland, New Zealand; James Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland, New Zealand; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA.
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