Environmental Portraits, The Artists Way

The Artists Way: Sue Leeming


Words and Images by Matt Cook


 I was there to support Sarah Thornton-Smith and her group exhibition when I happened to run into a friend who was chatting with Sue. Again, there I was inviting myself over for a coffee and a front row seat to where Sue’s beautiful work is created.

For Sue, art has always been a part of her life. Growing up in a broken home and being of a quieter nature, Sue used her room as a retreat, a place for creativity to blossom and a place where Sue would look back for inspiration time and time again. You see Sue grew up in Taranaki, a province of New Zealand in which, no matter where you were, you could see the great Mount Taranaki. In fact her bedroom window had the perfect view. This view, now embedded in Sue’s mind along with the buzzing sound of the ocean, play a major role in the inspiration behind Sue’s work.

It wasn’t too long before Sue knew she had to pursue art in a more serious manner. She first attended workshops at the local Polytechnic with local artist Tom Kreisler (Argentinian) enjoying the opportunity to work on her own ideas and long conversations about life and art. Tom then introduced her to the work of New Zealand painter Michael Shepherd encouraging her to attend one of his workshops.  The workshop introduced her to 17th century Dutch painting technique’s, something Sue fell madly in love with, particularly Shepherd’s response to that knowledge. It was about this time (1987) that Sue decided to up and move to Auckland where she worked in the accounts office of the DSIR. She had also rented a studio space on site at the Mt Albert campus so she could begin working on a portfolio and continue to learn from Shepherd over the next three years. It would be this portfolio that was her ticket to the University of Auckland, Elam School of Fine Art.

The foundation units in Sue’s first year of study covered everything from photography to sculpting. Obviously, Sue already had a love for painting, but photography was another subject that caught her attention. Shooting mainly in black and white, Sue loved hanging out in hair salons, capturing intimate portraits of the ‘interviews’ that happen between the cutter and the client. Ultimately Sue decided that although she had a love for painting she was aware she had become heavily influenced by Shepherds passionate approach to oil painting and decided it would be beneficial for her to use a different medium and chose to major in Printmaking.

Printmaking allowed Sue to further explore and to find her own visual language – therefore defining her own artistic voice. For Sue her work was, is and always will be, about her own life experiences – a reflection of an authentic life journey. Sue also had a love-hate relationship with Printmaking. While she loved the dry point technique, as soon as something required acid or layers, Sue found the process became a barrier to her concept and slowly developed the more immediate approach of monotypes, working directly onto an aluminium plate and layering as she would with painting. Her post-graduate year was spent consolidating these ideas under the auspices of Paul Hartigan.

 While she admits not all artists think this way, for Sue, it was ultimately why painting became the main medium for a lot of her work – it was an immediate and organic result.  

In 1998 Sue made the move to Perth, Western Australia where she now lives as an Australian Resident in the Peel Region. Her current work explores ideas of displacement (suddenly finding herself in a completely new environment, essentially a blank canvas starting from scratch), abstraction, identity and spirituality. Sue will continue to create art based on the source of uncovering memories. Sue also plans to get back into some printmaking and learning some new art-forms including exploring some of her heritage with traditional Maori Weaving.

I for one cannot wait to see Sue’s accomplishments over the next few years. I highly recommend you head over to Sue’s website to see her completed works and to find out when her next exhibition will be!  

"I want to create art that people want to live with, that will create that same beautiful meditative quality that you experience when you’re actually out in the country side, cruising along, unwinding and just feeling that load of urbanisation coming off you"

Sue Leeming

Sue Leeming

lets all support our local artists!

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