My Spitalfields: Artist Sue Kreitzman Reveals Her True Colours
We visited the east end home of artist, market-goer and self-confessed colour obsessive Sue Kreitzman.
Kreitzman is a Jewish New Yorker raised in Washington Heights with an enchanting accent to prove it. She has lived in the UK for 36 years moving with her husband who worked as a research fellow at Cambridge University. They spent 10 years in a farming village in Cambridgeshire where she wrote multiple cookbooks and was quickly discovered by the BBC, becoming a household name cooking on daytime television with Alan Titchmarsh. Krietzman travelled to London on weekends and soon realised it was where she needed to be.
To find a place they could afford, Kreitzman and her husband kept coming further east, eventually discovering the neighbourhood of Bow, “it felt like I had come home” says Krietzman, and she’s been here ever since. Stepping into her house is otherworldly, you are at once absorbed into Kreitzman’s exciting universe, she lives her art, sleeps in it, breathes it, “I literally wear my art on my back”.
What are your fondest memories of colour as a child?
I have been a colour maniac since I can remember. I have an obsession with colour. I remember in kindergarten one of the first things they did was bring out the box of crayons and I can still smell them, that was a seminal moment for me. When I was a kid I had synesthesia so I could hear colours, days of the week and months of the year had different colours in my mind, and I thought everybody was like that.
When did you start using colour at home?
When I was 21 I got married and moved into an apartment in Washington Heights, I painted the walls red and put colour all over the place, I was incredibly proud of the way it looked – it had all been off-white. The freedom of living in your own place is you can do exactly what you want, there are no rules, you make your own rules. I invited my mother for lunch and she came in and looked around and said, “you’ll outgrow it”, and so I’m 77 years old, and it only got more so!
Who are the artists that have inspired your work?
I would say number one is Henri Rousseau. I have a very emotional response to his work – the complete naive freedom he had. The first time I saw his paintings I was a toddler because my mother used to drag us through the museums in New York City – I saw these even before I saw my first box of crayons. Then there is Niki de Saint Phalle, beautiful, crazy – she also deeply inspired me. Then folk art and outsider art in general.
Tell us about your Mexican influences?
Back in the late 70s I went to Mexico a couple of times because my godson was born there and I had people to stay with. Mexico gets inside your head and never ever leaves. The food and the art and the colour really got to me and my time there was very intense. The painted houses, bright clothing, the markets were extraordinary and it was extremely exciting, it was damn exciting!
It’s become a bit of cliché but I adore Frida Kahlo and I visited her house in Coyoacán. Now when you go I understand it’s a very big deal but when I went there in the early 80s there was just one guard sleeping in a garden chair outside. We had to wake him up and he got his keys and let us in, then went back to his chair and back to sleep. There was no gift shop, nobody there. My friend and I wandered through the house and it was unbelievably moving – her corset was on the bed and her kitchen was yellow. Frida Kahlo has had a big influence on me, her art and the way she lived, she took indigenous folk art seriously and I love her for that.
How do you decide what to wear each morning?
That is the great pleasure in life, and all my friends that will be with me on the colour walk, we all dress different but we all dress uniquely. Sometimes I start with a neck piece I want to wear and sometimes a particular colour and sometimes I just stand there and think, oh my goodness I don’t know what to pick I love it all! I don’t have a formula, it’s just about fun and what speaks to me. Everyday is fantastic and dressing this way is good for the mental health, it keeps me young.
Tell us about the talk you are doing at the Silk Series market?
I want to talk about the east end and the market itself. Back in the 80’s when it stopped being a fruit and vegetable market, Old Spitalfields Market was an old rubbly hole in the ground, and all sorts of interesting artists had informal and rough stalls to sell their art and hang out. I used to go all the time and bought a lot of stuff from people that have gone on to great things. I continue coming to the market to this day because of the antiques market, I’m a flea market fanatic – from the very first day it opened I have been going, it’s a real honest-to-god flea market and a lot of the traders have become friends of mine. They know what I am looking for and are very kind to me, I support that market with all my heart.
I met Mei-Hui Liu, the curator of Silk Series, way back in the day when she was selling her designs at the market and that’s when we became friends. I’m so happy to see Mei-Hui is curating art and artisans back to the market. It’s the best thing that could happen because it’s right in the middle of the east end, an area bursting with artists, and it was the artists that moved here because they could afford it and they made it fascinating.
“I’m so happy to see art and artisans back to the market. It’s the best thing that could happen in the middle of the East End, an area bursting with artists, and it was the artists that moved here because they could afford it, and they made it fascinating.”
What items have you bought from the market that are most precious to you?
I buy things for my art because I am an assemblage artist – practically my whole life is made from that flea market, and they know what I am looking for now. All over my house, everywhere, you point at anything and is has something to do with the market.
When you go to the flea market the whole world is there and you see the most wonderful characters – you see men in skirts, you see women in god knows what, the really colourful characters of the east end are there on Thursday at Spitalfields. It’s like my home from home, my friends come and meet me, we go out and look for stuff and come back and share, and once a month we have a colour walk.
How did the colour walks begin?
We started doing the colour walks a few years ago – and it happened by accident. Mei-Hui Liu had a pop-up and a bunch of us decided to bring clothes, and for the people who didn’t have colourful clothes we dressed them up and I brought my necklaces, and we paraded up and down. So now we have a regular walk once a month on Thursdays at Old Spitalfields Market where we sit around and talk, walk around the market, take pictures of each other and everybody takes pictures of us. We all are artists one way or another so we buy stuff for our work and it’s the most satisfying day. You know once a month that you’re not really a weirdo – because there are so many other people like you and this is the way we are, we are like a tribe – a colour tribe – it’s absolutely wonderful.
“The walks reaffirm your belief in humanity, you realise there is goodness, there is beauty, there is art, there is colour.”
How does somebody join your colour tribe?
You just come! We put it on Facebook and publicise the hell out of it, and say ‘all welcome’, so sometimes we have a small group sometimes we have a huge group. For the CNN filming we had over a hundred people. It’s a bad sad scary world out there and these times are especially disgusting especially with what is happening in America, and the walks reaffirm your belief in humanity, you realise there is goodness, there is beauty, there is art, there is colour.