By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
COVINGTON – If Suzanne King lived another 100 years she would still be discovering new ways to utilize her talent.
King is unquestionably recognized as one of the top artists in St. Tammany Parish and has been exhibiting her extraordinary work locally for years through many different outlets.
Describing herself as a “mixed media artist” her ability will be seen up close when a special show of hers will open at the St. Tammany Art Association this Saturday, Dec. 12, running through January 30.
Entitled, “String Theory: The Art of Manipulation—New Work by Suzanne King,” the opening reception will be held this Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. at 320 N. Columbia St. in Covington, home of the Art Association.
King may have reached her 70th birthday in the past year, but it is clear she has no plans to slow down, something that should delight locals who have enjoyed her work here for many years.
King said she has always enjoyed the opportunity to use her art to exhibit many different things in surprisingly interesting ways.
She made that point very clear when pointing to one of the 19 pieces that will be on exhibit at her show. Part of the piece includes shattered glass from her pool house door.
“I like learning and I see beauty and art in things that many people would never notice,” she said. “I noticed a birds nest the other day and was fascinated to see how the bird created it. I saw a dead tree recently and thought it was beautiful when someone else didn’t see anything special about it.
“I have always looked at things differently, but I guess that’s what most artists do and that’s where the creative side comes through,” she added.
King’s work is probably the most widely recognized of any artist in the area as she has been used for the biggest local events the Covington area has hosted. She has created posters for Chef Soiree, the St. Tammany Fair and the Covington Bicentennial and next year will be drawing a colorful map with great detail showing the city of Covington.
Her life has taken her in different directions she wouldn’t have predicted, but art was always at the center of her world in whatever she was doing, or wherever she lived.
King graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University in 1967 with an art degree and expected to go on to graduate school and possibly teach. Instead, Shell Oil had contacted the school and needed to hire artists to work with their draftsmen.
“I never would have guessed I would be going to work at Shell right out of college, but it turned out to be a great thing,” she said.
Her plan was to work six months to save money for graduate school, but 24 years later she realized it was the right path for her to continue learning and improving her ability.
“Shell needed artists to explain to John Q. Public what their drilling would look like so I would sketch drawings of their operations and what they looked like so people could really understand it better,” she said.
Without planning it, King had opened the door for other women to get into that field.
“I was the first woman draftsman they had and then other women followed me,” she said.
King has been a lifelong resident of the Covington area, graduating from Covington High in 1963 and doing the usual things in school that predicted a career in art.
“My father was the first one who recognized I had some talent. He got me a notebook to draw when I was five and I’ve never stopped,” she said. “He was so supportive of my art and it was sad for him to die at age 46. He was a neat guy.”
King was excelling from the beginning, winning contests in the seventh grade hosted by the New Orleans Symphony to draw pictures that represented their music. In high school she drew at every opportunity with senior class plays, homecoming decorations and more.
“I had a teacher in high school, Francis Williams, who was their first art teacher and she was great, opening me up to other media,” she explained. “Then I had more great art teachers in college who really taught me a lot and helped me improve.”
Drawing has always been King’s strong suit and her excellence with pen and ink is clear in the show that will be on exhibit starting this Saturday. But years of learning and finding new ways to express her art is also quite evident in the “String Theory” show.
“I’ve never stopped learning–that is what I enjoy in life,” she said. “I took etching classes at Tulane when I worked at Shell, I love photography and have worked at that, I love doing house renderings and I even learned guitar and sign language.
“I still watch the History Channel,” she said with a laugh. “Some people express their art through food, but I do it in my own way.”
Married in 1986 led to an opportunity to live in China for three years where she taught art, and was also exposed to the Chinese women artists, renowned worldwide for their work.
“These women work in freezing cold weather and create some amazing art,” King said. “The time in China was eye opening.”
Back in St. Tammany Parish in 1995 she has spent the past 20 years becoming very involved in the community here, supporting numerous charitable events and organizations through her work. She was among the founding members of the Covington Business Association and is active in that group today, supporting the small business community in every way possible.
King is continually finding new ways to draw and display her work, even becoming the artist who draws the pictures on the pizza boxes for Covington’s “Pizza Man.”
“I’m sure a lot of people will be surprised that I’m the one who does the Pizza Man box art,” she added with a smile. “I enjoy it since it’s one more way to do something with my art.”
She was approached a year ago by the St. Tammany Art Association to put on her own show, something that isn’t new since she showed her work at many New Orleans galleries during the 24 years with Shell when she lived on the South Shore.
But perhaps the clearest sign confirming her special talent is the fact King has sold most of the work she has displayed over the years, with numerous pieces selling for thousands of dollars. These days, however, she is simply happy to look back on a life as an artist, and appreciate the fact she was able to do it for a living.
“When I think about what I have done for my entire life I mostly think I’m lucky to have had a career in the discipline that I love,” she said. “It has been great. I have gone around the world, seen museums, and always been able to work at my craft.”
But don’t think she is ready to head off into the sunset. King has already been signed for several projects in 2016. Besides the map of Covington she was recruited to draw a historic home in downtown that will soon be demolished, and will also illustrate two books, the first time she has ever done that.
“As I said, I love discovering new things to work with,” she said. “The books are going to be fun, but after that I’ll still be looking for something new to do.
“I like drawing,” she added. “And I’m excited about next year so stay tuned.”