We Speak to Gilder & Artist SUZE DEE


 

Recontextualizing a technique previously used to signify wealth & high status, to tell her story.


www.thefolkgilder.com
Instagram: @singularsuze


By Jee Young Park
October 11, 2023



LF: On your website, you write: “I am not fancy. I serve no art god.” Can you elaborate on not serving an “art god” and how it affects your approach to creativity?

SD: I think in this context I use the term “god” almost like a representation of systemic art institutions. I don’t have formal training or schooling. Where at one point I was extremely self-conscious about that, I’ve now found it to be extremely liberating. I let go of trying to create as a form of validation from the outside and instead focus on what makes me happy. They’re simple pieces, but they’re from the heart.

LF: If not an art god, do you drive your practice from a set of values or something else?

SD: My work is purely driven by my own whimsy and curiosities. I’ve always struggled to find what my thematic commonality is. My brain is always going in 100 directions. I’m driven by emotion, whether my personal experience or what I’ve witnessed or heard secondhand. I think a lot about the universal feelings and experiences humans share, from the beginning of time. I value the human experience, the absurdity of it all, the finiteness, the connection…





LF: Do you apply this lens when you consume the work of others? If yes, how does it alter your perspective of their work?

SD: I think so. I try to take in the work, form my thoughts on it, and then try to understand their perspective and message.

LF: Gilding is not the most accessible career, as far as I know. How did you get started?

SD: God no lol. Well, at the time I was working retail but I knew I really loved art and I wanted a creative career. So I did what I could to expose myself to that environment. I took a fabrication class, I talked to everyone I met in a creative field, asked a bunch of questions. Just casting a wide net every chance I could. Eventually, I met someone who was a friend of my partner (at the time), and they were a gilder. They let me help out on a project they were doing. I think I worked for free the first couple of times. I just wanted the exposure. I had no idea what it was, I think I went home and tried to Google everything I could about the craft. Eventually, they introduced me to their boss, who eventually became my boss after an apprenticeship. It was wild. At that point, I was doing 60-hour work weeks between gilding and my retail job, and finally, I was like, “I gotta take this risk”. So I quit the retail job and went into gilding full time and did that for a couple of years.




LF: Based on your experience, what do you think are the common barriers to pursuing gilding? How did you address them in your work? What helped? What didn’t? What’s still not working?

SD: It’s so niche. The materials are wildly expensive, so already that financially excludes people. Then just the know-how on technique is so specific, and there aren’t that many people who do this anymore. There are a lot of videos online of people slapping metal leaf with craft glue together and calling it gilding, but the actual proper way to do it is so complicated. Gilders have their own formulas and tricks and a lot of that is so closely guarded. So accessibility to information as well. I don’t think I would’ve ever known about this if I hadn’t stumbled into it.

I don’t think I’ve directly addressed any of that in my work. It’s challenging because unless someone knows what gilding is, it’s really hard to explain exactly how my work is made and what goes into it even though the imagery is simple.



 
LF: You describe the autobiographical piece, I Know Where I Came From, as a “love letter to your family”. What was it like to create a piece that is so clearly driven by a core personal narrative from inception to completion? Was it emotional? Clarifying? A burden lifted? Bonding?

SD: It’s funny because I think that was the first piece I did, ever. It was a gift to my sister. Technically it’s really crude and simple but it just means a lot. The idea came to me out of nowhere… you know when you’re doing something mundane and you just think of something and go “hmm”. It was like that. I don’t know if I’m just overly sentimental about these things but I feel like a part of my soul goes into pieces like that. It’s exciting to make work under those pretenses, and I would definitely say it’s almost a love language for me.

It’s kind of ironic too. Who would’ve thought in that dramatic moment of escape my family endured, that someday I’d have the privilege to commemorate it with… gold? Gold. Wild. My story isn’t special though and isn’t something that can’t be related to literally millions of kids of immigrants/refugees/first generation who live under the umbrella of their parents’ sacrifices.

So, I’d say there was excitement, a sense of pride, attached to it.





LF: How do you see your work fitting into the folk art tradition?

SD: Hmm. I see it as an extension of my personal narrative. I feel like fine art is very institutional, very public… it fits within very specific parameters. It has rules. That’s not my work. I’m not formally trained or anything. I create from a place of feeling, first and foremost. I’m just telling a story. My story.





LF: When most people think of gilding, they think of Versailles, ancient Egyptian artifacts, a decorative, very baroque, opulent style in gold leaf. How has your exploration of gilding challenged these notions or affirmed them?

SD: It’s a little bit of a juxtaposition, isn’t it? It seems like it was mostly used for royalty or a specific class and here I am making these little storytelling pieces from a background that would definitely not even come close to that level of privilege and prestige. I don’t think when I started gilding I had the foresight to think about whether I was challenging or affirming anything. I don’t know. I think you stumped me lol.

LF: Confession, I was a little stumped at this point so I did a quick Google search, and a generic list of “10 artist questions you must be able to answer” came up. Most of them were very stale but I did like this one, “How do you balance your personal life and your practice?” Most people who aren’t creators perceive artists as indulgent and a little oblivious to happenings outside their scope of interest, but I believe it’s something artists think about a lot or, at least, are confronted with regularly. Does your experience differ? Did your social circle support you as you got started? What’s it like for you?

SD: How do I explain to someone that the need to create is as urgent as the will to take the next breath? It was split. I got a lot of curiosity and interest and support and I also got, “Art jobs don’t pay, you’re gonna starve, etc”. I realized that the people who belittle the dreams of others are just a slave to their own stagnancy and frustrations.

It definitely helped to find artist friends. In general, it feels good to find support that validates the highs and lows, of anything. Community is so important. Now, I don’t bother with anyone who is anti-creative, to be honest. And that doesn’t mean people who are non-artists, or non-creative. I’m talking about people who almost have a hostility towards creativity and the arts and artists.




LF: Downtown Manhattan brings back a lot of memories. You hit your ten-year anniversary as a NYC resident back in June — not an easy feat! In what ways has living there matured you creatively?

SD: Thanks! It’s been a wild ride. I think exposure to so many different things and people and ideas that I never even could have dreamed existed (like gilding!). Every day is a learning experience. I think the maturity in my creativity is an offset from the personal growth I’ve had here. More kindness to self, asking questions, trying to understand myself as a person… and that curiosity and kindness to explore new things (whether or not they will be successful) translates into my work as well.





LF: What’s your favorite thing to do in the city?

SD: Honestly… walking. Get a pretty day or night with some great weather, a solid playlist, or even walking with someone with some good conversation… it’s the best. Just all the sights and seeing this space live and breathe and exist and just be in the middle of it all.

LF: What would you say is the biggest change you’ve noticed since you moved there?

SD: Creatively? Understanding there are different ways to express one’s craft. There’s no set path, you have to find your own way somehow. Personally? Self-sufficiency and self-advocacy. I think about things I let slide when I first moved here and I don’t recognize that person anymore. With the city? Just an evolving landscape.




LF: In your digital life, are there certain activities you purposely opt out of, considering how they may affect your ability to work creatively? For example, in regard to your mental health or physical health such as your eyesight and mobility in your hands?

SD: Are you referring to social media usage? I only have one public account, my Instagram. It’s cool as a tool to see and support other artists. I won’t say that I haven’t had an artist spiral moment where Every One Online is so beautiful and talented and perfect. So I guess moderation is key. As far as physicality, my day job keeps me moving around a lot and keeps me mentally stimulated as well just with the sheer amount of people I encounter daily.





LF: Lastly, please tell me about your bike! Was it easy to learn how to ride? What’s the upkeep?

SD: It’s a 1980 Kawasaki KZ440 LTD and it’s a pain in my ass hahaha. I took the MSF class so that helped but after that, I was on my own. I dropped it a couple of times in the beginning and wiped out once on some gravel. Learning to ride wasn’t so hard as much as finding a place in an urban environment to practice! As far as upkeep, I’m still troubleshooting it because there’s something off in the carburetor so if it’s not revving super high it’s stalling out… it’s a whole thing, I’ll spare you. I love it though, and I have enjoyed the tactical aspect of wrenching on it and trying to solve its endless riddles (with lots and lots of help from my friend Frank who has saved my ass on more than one occasion with it). No regrets, it’s my first bike so of course I’m enamored. I wouldn’t mind a second one though … :)



 

All works in this interview are protected under the artist’s copyright. Images are for the purpose of this interview only and with permission from the artist.