This is my 14th exhibition here, and probably since my 2007 show, there has been more of a theme or a central driving force in the work. This show, I’ve had in my head for forever and have been trying to think of how to paint this pivotal piece, “Pawleys Island Pink,” and standing on these oyster shells with my mom when I was 13. My mother was also a painter, and my sister Nancy is a painter. Standing there with my mom, I thought: Could I paint the joy I’m feeling right now? There were a lot of childhood memories. My mother used to tell people, “Oh, she used to remember coming out of me!” And I say, “Well, Mom, I don’t remember that.”

But you do remember a lot. 

I have quite a visual memory. I don’t remember people’s names sometimes that I’ve only met a couple times, but this visual memory thing, it’s like I take snapshots in my brain that nag at me until I get them on canvas. 

I’m curious about this process of painting from memory—does the memory change as you paint it? 

There are some paintings that I do a lot of sketching and painting and trying to figure out how I’m going to put this in this space for this particular memory. The big Pawleys Island painting was daunting to think, how am I going to get this feeling? A sunset is an ever-changing thing. There’s a pastel in this show, and that’s a medium I’ve been doing since I was nine years old. It is something where I can get an immediate application to paper from my head. Sometimes I’ll do a canvas from that. Pastels are like breathing in and breathing out for me. 

Do you still live in Durham? 

I finally got to the coast. I live in Shallotte, North Carolina. Durham is still really my home. I was here for 28 years. 

You were an INDY illustrator in the early days—what was that like? 

That was quite a time. Somebody would come to me and say, “Sue we need this” or “Sue we need that,” and I’d get my pen and ink out and do that black and white graphic. I did all the sections for a few years. It was all a very spontaneous and organic thing, and it was very fun working with all those people, some of whom I’m very close friends with. And then there’s Mayor Steve! It was crazy back then. There was a man, Jim Overton, who worked there, and when The Independent had the big 20th or 25th reunion and had a big party downtown, Jim Overton came up to me and said, “Sue, I just want to thank you—back then, you never complained. In all that uproar, we’d ask you to do something, you’d say ‘OK’ and then hand it over to us.” It was something to be there in the beginning of the paper, that’s for sure.

Follow Deputy Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards on Twitter or send an email to

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.