Sue Pearson is known locally as a printmaker, artist and designer of beautiful fabrics and t-shirts. Internationally she is known as a book illustrator and exponent of Norfolk and Pitcairn heritages through her art, which comprises media such as photography, painting and nprintmaking.
Sue is a Norfolk Islander, a direct descendant of the Tahitian women and British sailors of the Bounty who settled Pitcairn Island and whose descendants made Norfolk their home in 1856. Sue uses her creative practice to depict the natural environment of Norfolk Island, its history, heritage and contemporary issues faced by our small island nation. She also uses her artwork as vehicle to challenge and subvert the prevailing stereotypes about her Tahitian foremothers. Sue continues an international fine art practise, exhibiting her work from Norfolk to the wider Pacific, the USA , France and Estonia while in parallel producing a range of “functional art” such as clothing and house wares.
Although preferring to use art to convey her thoughts, Sue shared with me her story about how her work evolved. “I started my training at art school majoring in illustration but soon gave that up when I discovered printmaking. Years later I did end up illustrating a book called The Green Turtle. Today I have a beautiful printing press in my studio, but I started in 1992 in a workshop under my parent’s house at Steeles Point.
“I bought a t-shirt printing carousel and half a box of t-shirts and set up a stall at the local Sunday markets. When I sold those I bought more. I also started doing small prints on paper. I burnt out a few Sunbeam Blenders experimenting with making my own paper! I used Norfolk’s plants in that process. It was a way of connecting our natural environment directly with the art work. I also like to use Norfolk Island Pine frames for this reason.
Gradually the stock grew and in January 1995, ‘Aatuti Art’ was opened in Burnt Pine and still operates today. I started printing fabric to add colour and variety to the range. I hosted a small workshop with some local, Maori and Hawaiian artists. At this workshop I learnt block cut fabric printing techniques from Jean Clarkson another artist of Norfolk Island descent. Traditional block cut involves carving wood but we found polystyrene packing out the back of Foodland Supermarket and tried carving that. It was easier than wood and also recycled waste material. We dyed it by making a fire under a tree and boiling up a dye pot for 3 pieces of fabric. Over time I developed recipes for dying and fine-tuned the printing technique. We sold fabric lengths. One day a lady came in and asked if I knew anyone who could sew as she wanted a beach tunic made from some of the fabric. I shut the shop, hopped in my car and drove over to Margie Christian’s house. Margie is an expert seamstress, and had a lot of patterns and in no time she had sewn up a tunic. And so began our hand printed fabric range.”
Much of Sue’s art uses trans-Pasifika symbols and motifs to illuminate cultural connections between Norfolk Islanders, Pitcairn Islanders, Tahitians and other peoples. Asked about the symbolism behind the motifs such as the turtle and the tern, Sue had this to say: “Some of these prints have particular stories while others are depictions of our natural environment. “Honu Daun Aa Kord” is about a turtle found by two boys in the rock pool at the Kord being chased by a couple of baby sharks. The boys rescued it and saw that it was tagged. It had been tagged when hatched in Bora Bora and retagged in Hawaii. And there it was on Norfolk! I thought what an extraordinary journey that turtle had been on! I use turtle motifs a lot in reference to our Tahitian heritage and journeying.
Stars are a navigational symbol (used by both our British and Polynesian ancestors) and indicate what I think is the importance of individuals choosing future directions, and significantly that of Norfolk as a small Pacific nation. Pine seeds feature in my designs to depict future generations of Islanders. Pine trees are also used and refer to the genealogies of Islanders.”
Of recent years Sue’s Tahitian foremothers have been of great inspiration. She sees her contemporary printmaking practice as an evolution of her foremothers Tapa cloth design and production. “Coming to know” these women and her own children has been a large part of her personal journey into womanhood and an understanding and creation of further connections. Through several of her art series Sue pays tribute to the Tahitian women who founded the Pitcairn community. It is their resourcefulness and strength that ensured the survival of future generations of Bounty descendants.
Sue’s gallery, Aatuti Art, remains a space that provides visitors and locals alike with a range of goods that are inspired by our beautiful island and our heritage.
Image Credit: Ahu Sista, © Copyright Sue Pearson – Aatuti Art
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 01 Issue 01, 2010. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.