Silent kiwi artist chosen for Aspen Snowmass lift pass artwork

Untitled, c. 2015. (Private collection, courtesy of the artist, Chris Byrne, Andrew Edlin Gallery, and Marlborough Contemporary, London and New York.

Big news out of Aspen Snowmass today for antipodeans as the phenomenal work of silent kiwi artist, Susan Te Kahurangi King is chosen for the annual lift pass canvas for the 2019/2020 lift tickets. 

What is extraordinary about King’s work is that she doesn’t speak. At all. Instead she communicates with the world through her intricate visual vocabulary with artworks that have been heralded globally. 

Aspen’s commitment to the arts is well documented and skiers and boarders at Aspen this year will be delighted by the strength of colour in King’s work on their lift passes.  

Born 1951 in Te Aroha, New Zealand, she is the second eldest in a family of twelve children. Although upon turning three, King spoke fluently, by the time she reached five, her ability to speak was well in decline and at the age of seven, virtually a thing of the past.

As King’s inability to speak set in, so too did her heightened ability and commitment to draw. At the age of four, King’s grandmother acknowledged and encouraged her artistic talent.

Soon after starting school at the age of five, her teacher reported that Susan displayed remarkable mental activity in the creation of complicated figures drawn on paper, and that she was able to concentrate on drawing for hours at a time. At the tender age of seven, she was prolific and showed signs of talent as a young artist.

In 1960, the family moved to Auckland so Susan could attend a newly established special school, which she attended for almost three decades.

At some stage in the very early 1990s, King ceased her drawing practice. However, in 2008, fueled by renewed interest shown in her work, not long before the filming of “Pictures of Susan” (directed by Dan Salmon of Octopus Pictures Ltd, 2012), she picked up the pencil and began to draw, continuing where she had left off almost two decades prior.

This will mark the 15th consecutive year that Aspen Snowmass has partnered with an acclaimed artist to design the lift ticket.

“The Aspen Idea is founded on the ideals of mind, body and spirit, and the lift ticket art program is a perfect expression of our values of self-reflection and creativity along with our community’s strong bond around the arts,” says Mike Kaplan, president and CEO, Aspen Snowmass.

“We are incredibly excited to work with Susan King, whose art sparks a similar joy that is found spending time in the beautiful mountains and this incredible community.”

King’s exhibition history is extensive with representation in major art fairs, galleries and museums by prominent curators. She has been featured in many exhibitions, events and publications in a range of contexts both as an ‘Outsider artist’ and a ‘Contemporary artist’.

These include The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; American Folk Art Museum, New York; Marlborough, London; Outsider Art Fairs in New York and Paris with Chris Byrne; Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York; Robert Heald Gallery, Wellington; City Gallery Wellington, TSB Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland; and the Auckland Art Fair 2018.

What becomes immediately evident in King’s drawings is the rigorousness of her visual vocabulary. This body of works features an abundance of color, generated predominantly in felt tip markers, a medium scarcely used in her earlier works.

“We are proud to have join the impressive roster of artists in this unique collaboration,” says Paula Crown.

“The contributing artists over the past 15 years represent an extraordinary breadth of creative talents, identities and geographies, and Susan’s story is especially inspirational. Art in Unexpected Places reminds us of the value of being present for and appreciating the marks each of us make in the world, whether it is a series of perfectly carved ski turns or a generous act.”

In previous years, Aspen Snowmass has featured commissioned works by internationally recognized artists such as Hank Willis Thomas, Paula Crown, Yutaka Sone, Peter Doig, Karen Kilimnik, Jim Hodges, Carla Klein, Mamma Andersson, Mark Grotjahn, David Shrigley, Mark Bradford, Anne Collier, Takashi Murakami, and Laura Owens.

The lift ticket art program was started as a partnership between the Aspen Art Museum and Aspen Snowmass in 2005.

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Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.