ARTnews Spotlights Maui Art
by Sue Nash, Island Currents
I have been anxiously waiting for the November issue of ARTnews magazine
to arrive because it contains an Arts of Maui supplement. As I read the
supplement, I was struck by a sense of summary and weaving together and
by its recognition of art that depends on nature and celebrates the eternal.
I had recently witnessed the tranquil sorrow and brilliance of fall color
for the first time in a decade and had just concluded reading James Hillman's
The Soul's Code in which the daimon (one's genius) is given
the character of an oak within the acorn. My imagination was flooded with
puer imagery and (on the other side of the coin) the Saturnine (aged
wisdom of specifics). Factors of my immediate past experiences conspired
within me to give me a vision of Maui artists as providing some of the structure
for the new millennium. Maui artists glory in nature and craftsmanship,
yet know the ephemeral quality of the passing of life.
An article in the magazine about the video art of Bill Viola made me aware that a medium based on transient dots in space could plumb the depths of the big ideas like death and birth that would stay with us forever. While at the same time I could see, on the back cover of the magazine, sculpture by Cy Twombly. It was the first work I had seen by this artist in a medium directly opposite the one he is known for. Here was the master of the gestural, the quick, the erotic, and the cerebral eschewing paper and graphite for the earthy medium of sculpture. The piece resembles dramatically a petroglyph of a paddler with a broken paddle. For me, it looked like the embodiment of one of the most familiar figures in Hawaiian iconography, the Law of the Splintered Paddle. Here was a solid, geometrical, wood-like plaster arrangement by someone who, in the body of his known work, represents the fleeting moment. These are just two examples from the magazine which illustrate the juxtaposition of the fleeting with the eternal.
In the supplement, Paul Wood quotes Bruce Turnbull as saying "Maui art isn't radical art. We're getting away from the center because the art coming out of accepted circles is temporary, nonfunctional, and non-beautiful. We want beautiful, functional and long- lasting art with just the finest of craftsmanship. We're kind of old-fashioned." He made me realize what brings most artists to Maui. In my own work of creating monoprints about Hawaiian petroglyphs, I have been involved with the permanence of the visual symbol and its power to speak to us across cultures. I have just begun to incorporate, using the medium of the oil monotype, a series about the fleeting, gestural quality of symbols. Using the triangle, circle, and square and oil-based etching inks, I have been idly exploring the flickering gestures of these omnipresent symbols as a tribute to the gesture and the light touch. Turnbull, who sculpts in wood, announces a call for fine craftsmanship with function and beauty. He tells us that art on Maui prizes the permanent. This is the call of ancient Hawaii.
The wooden sculpture of old Hawaii was powerful, spiritual art that still evokes grandeur, mystery and permanence when seen today. It was made by priests and artists who spoke with the gods. It was made to last. Today, the art of Maui reflects a weaving together of the dichotomy of change and permanence. The decaying reality of nature- based art has been intertwined into something that speaks of nature's power and eternal quality.
On November 2, at the Whitney in New York, the flickering video art of Bill Viola will tell stories about the never-ending desert and the power of the elements of fire and water through a fugitive medium. On Maui, half a world away, John Romanchuk shows his work about Dreams and Reality at Viewpoints Gallery using a traditional medium of oil on canvas. Romanchuk returns to the seminal images he dealt with in the Fine-Arts Department at Syracuse at the same time Viola was there. Both artists' works are deeply rooted in the Upanishads, Eastern mysticism and the fundamentals of the spirit. Both express issues of importance and capture the eternal ephemera of reality. World art yearns to speak again of things important.
Here on an island in the Pacific, a culture based on the poetry contained within the seed has triumphed. It has triumphed over disease, political trickery, and economic exploitation. The Hawaiian language is being reborn. Pride in the achievements of Hawaiian culture is experiencing a renaissance. What the rest of the world can receive from Hawaii is a rational, nature-based aesthetic that is transnational and global. Art of Hawaii is original and informed by deep knowledge of the qualities that create the world around us. Look at work by JoAnn Kahanamoku Sterling, who has recreated an art of the past in her featherwork of power and majesty as well as living the life of a hero as a crew member of the Hokulea, whose successful voyages proved the truth of the heroic exploits of the voyagers of Hawaiian chant. Look at the imagery of Al Lagunero who awakens the viewer to the inner meaning of Hawaiian legends and the inner reality of natural phenomenon.. Look at the mythic stories in oil by artist Phil Sabado who leads the viewer to historical truths through his intuitively rendered paintings. These are artists who know that immortality is achieved in the gesture and the exploit, in the woven mat and the carved icon.
Fortunately, Maui has artists who speak to these issues with conscious awareness and mature grounding in their media. For example, when artist Tony Walholm uses the thick pigments of interference color on his massive canvases he is fully aware of capturing the evanescent quality of light in a permanent medium. J.B. Rea knows that his hand-hammered silver objects reflect a craft that has almost died from the earth. Julie Schoenecker beats the stems and bark of her hibiscus to make paper that she knows will express eloquently the flower she will soon inscribe upon its handmade surface. Margaret Bedell knows that her use of the press as a tool is a far cry from its traditional uses and that her watercolors as evocations of a changing reality are revolutionary. Dick Nelson knows that using the medium of watercolor to depict the eternal verities of color's complexity is an exercise in immortality.
Artists of Maui greet each new day with wonder for they see the mythic sun rising from its true home, the house of the sun, Hale-a-ka-la. They work to share their sense of wonder about the fleeting yet eternal, innate, useful gorgeousness of the world of nature and humanity, which are juxtaposed and poised in a moment they capture in time.
Here, in the pages of Islandcurrents, an electronic sharing of Maui, we invite you to see the work of these artists who have been called here from all over the world. If you are an artist, perhaps you will also feel the call of a culture where heroic action still rules the day and art-making is a recognized calling. Thanks to ARTnews Magazine from all the artists of Maui County for giving us a chance to show our art to the world.
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