Kingdom of Characters: Cover artist Suzanne King
by Brenda Breck
It was with eager anticipation that I approached the walkway to artist Suzanne King’s home-studio in Covington. Suzanne had told me that she had a studio in the back of her house, but that the lighting in her home’s living and dining room was so much better, she decided to let her art take over the area. If you come to dine with Suzanne, you will not be alone. You join a cast of characters that she has made come alive on canvas. What a treat!
Her range of subjects is from barns to nudes, from waiters to divas. All of these images come from what Suzanne calls, “the people who live in her head.” What a gift to be able to conjure up such a diversified group of characters. Her whimsical face-playing card series features her cat, Jack, that recently passed away but is kept alive through Suzanne’s art.
You can see the influence of her muse, Toulouse Lautrec, in the people and style Suzanne paints. She also attributes her talents to her college professors, Mel Falgoust and Barbara Tardo. Suzanne loves working mixed media, such as balsa wood, graphite, coffee, art markers, color pencils, metal and watercolors, to create her incredible and inviting art.
From flat to three dimensional, Suzanne twists her work into something more vibrant and visceral—a great departure from her original work. She loves exploring her range, thanking the influence of the Elmore Morgan workshops for this accomplishment. She credits Morgan with helping to transform her style into one with a more abstract influence. Working with Morgan aided the creation of the Paris Bistro 1935 series, one of which is on this month’s cover. According to Suzanne, “Elmore helped me bring my Bistro ladies to life. You can hear their laughter and the glasses tingling. He helped all those wonderful characters come alive.”
During Katrina, Suzanne escaped to her sister’s home in Chicago. The grief and pain that was typical for most Katrina victims also left her in shock, disbelief and unable to paint or draw. Finally, her niece convinced Suzanne to get back to work; hence came the series of the “Divas of the Seven Deadly Sins,” with the eighth being “gossip!” Her niece served as inspiration for some of the characters.
How did this all begin for Suzanne? She is one of the few locals who can say they were born in Madisonville at St. Catherine Hospital, which later housed the Madisonville Library until it was relocated last February. Suzanne’s Canadian father came down to New Orleans on leave during World War II, met and married her mother. Both parents had a great influence on her work. Suzanne’s father was an artist; her mother is an avid reader. Suzanne combined her inherited talents and incorporated them into her art, which is why you see verbiage in some of her paintings. She loves poetry, with T.S. Elliot being her favorite. Poems, also, appear in some of her work.
Suzanne has been drawing since she was five years old. Now in her sixties, her talents have expanded tremendously. “I used to be worried when people would ask me to describe my work because I didn’t have a special style. I soon discovered that my style was having no particular style!” she teases. If you had to pin her down, she would classify her work as a cross between realism and impressionism. Drawing is her specialty, and she draws almost every day.
After graduating from Southeastern Louisiana University as an art major, Suzanne accepted a position with Shell Oil Company as its first female draftsman. Working with Shell allowed her to get very involved with community work. As a graphic artist, she did house publications, television and print media and created graphics for the New Orleans cultural community, including Tulane University Lyric Theatre, WYES-TV, Greater New Orleans Science Fair, United Way and New Orleans Philharmonic Symphony.
In the evenings, Suzanne continued studies at Tulane University College, where she participated in group shows and won awards in local and regional events. She had three successful solo exhibits. During the ’70s and ’80s, Suzanne’s creative pursuits took her into the areas of photography, silk-screening, pen and ink, pottery and etchings.
For twenty-four years, Suzanne worked for Shell, spending the last eight years in Houston. Upon retiring in 1991, she taught art at the expatriate school in Shekou, China, for nearly three years and traveled around the area exploring other art forms. When asked if she enjoyed her experience in China, she bemuses, “Oh, yes, but some days you’d kill for a Wal-Mart!” This sense of humor shows through in her art and in her day-to-day life.
Suzanne came home in 1994—joining the many friends and family she has in our area—to explore her range in art and expand her talents. “Family and friends are the most important gift I have. Having lived here all my life, I have a bevy of them that I can call on anytime for anything.”
In 2001, Suzanne became a member of Ft. Isabel Gallery, the oldest (sixteen years) continuously operating gallery in the area. “It was a perfect fit for me; the variety of the work and the quality and price range suited me,” she says. Since prices range from $10 to $1,000, Suzanne could sell her cards as well as her paintings and “everything in between!” The gallery has a mix of artwork, including glass, metal, sculptures, oils, photography and mixed media. “I love mixed media. It allows me to really express myself. I like the idea of exploration—to try new media, new subject matter.”
This artist believes that art is a forever journey—forever evolving. “Brushstrokes show a human was there with different feelings and emotions. Brushstrokes are a badge of courage.”
Since 2001, Suzanne has been in several competitions and shows at the Slidell Cultural Center, Artistic Encounter in Slidell and at the St. Tammany Art Association in Covington. She’s been the featured artist for Ft. Isabel Gallery for the past six years. She has been asked, “How do you know what type of art people are going to like when you paint for the gallery?” Her answer, “I create a piece, and if someone likes it, it is a happy coincidence. It shows in your work that you love what you are doing.”
For all you pizza lovers who frequent Pizza Man of Covington, you’ve had to notice the painted boxes on the wall. Their creator is Suzanne King. It began eleven years ago when a friend and employee at Pizza Man asked her to put “thank you” on a box. You don’t ask an artist to look at a white box and just write “thank you.” Before anyone knew it, the first decorated box was created. Now, she is there every Monday night creating seasonal-themed or political-satire boxes. Everyone loves her editorial cartooning!
After our interview, Suzanne took me on a tour of her home and showed me all the art she has collected, saying, “I love to collect art from other artists.” When she showed me a doll, she told me the story of how, while in China, she had met a Chinese man who made these special, ancient dolls. She told him that they were wonderful, and the man replied, “Little work, much art.”
Suzanne says, “This is a very good philosophy.”
Suzanne King’s work may be seen at Ft. Isabel Gallery at 502 N. Columbia St. in Covington.