Treading the Maze
(An artist's journey through breast cancer)
Detail: Indian Labyrinth
Chronicle Books trade edition, 1997
© Susan E.King

Artist Statement
Susan E. King

In 1989 I spent the late spring and most of the summer on sabbatical in medieval Europe, England and Ireland, looking at architecture and illuminated manuscripts. The following autumn, while working on a book about my travels, I was diagnosed with early breast cancer, and started on another journey that would last through the winter and on through spring - a journey through the land of Cancer.

Cancer is not only a foreign land; it has its own language. Much of the cancer dialect relates to border and edges, location and site. I found myself worried about things that seemed antithetical to my nature. Was the cancer contained? Had it gone outside the edge of the cell? What did the biopsy look like at the margins? With a medical version of jet lag I tried to contemplate this foreign logic. So much of my work in the last decades has been concerned with "crossover." Part of my art job was to push the content of art off the known way and into new territory. Now my job with this illness seemed just the opposite. I needed to focus on containment of the cancer cells. I had entered the true borderland.

The artwork that resulted from these two journeys, Treading the Maze: an artist's book of daze, uses the maze at Chartres Cathedral in France as the structure of the book. It places the reader/viewer in the role of a pilgrim, confronted with unexpected images, stories that look back and forth in time, and a sense of what it means to walk into the maze of illness and back out again.

The Queen of Wands
Die cut paper sculpture,
Tetratetraflexagon structure, offset, foil stamping
Paradise Press, 1993
© Susan E. King


Susan E. King is an artist and writer who started making books after she moved to Southern California in the 1970's to be part of the experimental Feminist Studio Workshop. She eventually was the studio director of the Women's Graphic Center at the Woman's Building.

She grew up in the South, in a family of storytellers. Southern oral tradition and history, and writing about place often appear in her work. Trained as a sculptor, she brings sculptural aspects to making printed and one of a kind artist's books.

Her work is in major collections including The Getty Center, Bel Air; the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; the Museum of Modern Art Library, New York; and the Victoria and Albert Museum Library, London. She divides her time between Los Angeles and rural Kentucky. Chronicle Books in San Francisco recently published a trade edition of her artist's book, Treading the Maze: an artist's journey through breast cancer.


Campbell, Clayton. "Gynodramas: Women on the Verge of a Medical Revolt in Santa Monica." Visions Winter 1994.

Drucker, Johanna. "Artists' Books and the Cultural Status of the Book." Journal of Communication 44.1 (1994).

Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artist's Books. Granary Books, 1995.

Hoffberg, Judy. "Susan E. King." ArtScene [Los Angeles] 13.10 (1994).

Hubert, Judd D. and Renée Riese Hubert. "Susan King's Marriage of True Minds and Clarissa Sligh's Open House Biography." (auto)biographical Writing and the Artist's Book, AbraCadaBrA, (Journal of Alliance for Contemporary Book Arts) 10 (1996).

King, Susan, ed. (auto)biographical Writing and the Artist's Book, AbraCadaBrA, (Journal of Alliance for Contemporary Book Arts) 10 (1996).

King, Susan. "Notes from the Distaff Side." AbraCadaBrA, (Journal of Alliance for Contemporary Book Arts) 6 (1992).

King, Susan. "The Body of the Book in the Late 20th Century." Rendez-vous [Idaho State University] 29.2 (1994).

Petro, Pamela. "Healing Correspondences." Women's Review of Books XIV.12 (1997).

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All images and text © Susan E. King.