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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 31, 2002

Shows tackle labors of Hercules, meanings in everyday life

By Victoria Gail-White
Special to The Advertiser

Snowden Hodges is a soft-spoken, unassuming and gentle man. His recent exhibit, "Florence and the Labors of Hercules," in the Graphic Arts Gallery at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, is none of those things. It is a show in which the drawings are so powerful that confronted by such brute strength, one has a tendency to feel vulnerable.

Snowden Hodges: 'Florence and the Labors of Hercules'
Until June 16

Honolulu Academy of Arts

Graphic Arts Gallery,
900 S. Beretania St., Honolulu

10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. Sundays

Free on the first Wednesday and Sunday of each month


'Containers of the Soul'
Koa Gallery

Kapi'olani Community College, 4303 Diamond Head Road, Honolulu

Until April 12

10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays and holidays


These large drawings "were deliberately installed above the viewing plane to increase the monumentality of the artwork," explained George Ellis, director of the academy. Jennifer Saville, curator and installer of the exhibit, said many of the drawings can be purchased.

Hodges, a professor at Windward Community College, went to Florence for a yearlong sabbatical to study and paint the art, architecture and people. That decision led him to the Palazzo Vecchio and the Salone dei Cinquencento, a great Council Hall, where he became enchanted with the colossal sculptures of Vincenzo de' Rossi (1525-1587) commemorating six of the twelve trials of Hercules. In fact, he acquired a one-month pass from the Cultural Ministry to paint, sketch and photograph them.

What inspired Hodges to choose as a subject this most famous of Greek heroes? Son of Zeus, ruler of the heavens, Hercules (aka Heracles) was driven mad by his jealous stepmother, Hera, and murdered his own wife and children. To expiate his crime, the Oracle of Delphi suggested he perform what came to be called the Twelve Labors of Hercules, which included slaying the nine-headed water serpent Hydra; procuring the girdle of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons; capturing the Cretan bull, the man-eating mares of Diomedes, the boar of Erymanthus and the Sacred Hind of Arcadia; enticing from his post Cerberus, the vicious three-headed guard dog from hell; shooting some birds; and cleaning some stables. Sounds like a rough day at the office.

"Hercules is worth doing because he is so relevant and representative of our own time — his struggle and the triumph of good over evil, and the raw power of it all," Hodge said. This exhibit has brought the archetypal hero to life again, here in Honolulu, timeless inside Hodges' realistic charcoal drawings.

His attachment to the Italian Renaissance, to realism and to some of the 15th-century recipes he uses to make his own oil medium can be viewed around the far left corner of this exhibit. The painting "E Vero" or "The Truth," a vibrant still life of vegetables, is more characteristic of the work that Hodges is known for. Don't miss it.

The return of formalism to the classical art studies of sketching and figure study are on the upswing in the contemporary art scene. Tired of the tales of students and artists going abroad to study, Hodges developed a six-week atelier class at Windward Community College in Kane'ohe that will begin in May so students can study here.

The figures in "Florence and the Labors of Hercules" are a stretch for Hodges. He wanted the drawings to "have movement and be dynamic," he says. All of the larger sketches were reconstructed in Hawai'i from his studies in Florence. "As I recreated the feeling, (the drawings) became more intuitive, telling me what was needed." This seems reminiscent of a sentiment by a contemporary of de' Rossi, Michelangelo, who said he saw the figure in the stone and carved to set it free.

In this exhibit, Hodges has unleashed the power of Hercules. The painterly drawings come off the page with intensified charcoal, color washes and conte crayon to inspire courage and strength in our own labors of life.

• • •

If your tastes run towards more feminine principles, "Containers of the Soul" is a joint exhibit featuring new works by Kloe Kang and Karen Lucas.

This earthy show is heartwarming. The primarily sepia-toned oil paintings of Korean rice bowls by Kang and the sculptural stoneware heads of Lucas are oversized.

"In my paintings, doors, chairs, rice bowls and words are used as a metaphor to the common everyday life that is so familiar to us that we unconsciously ignore its existence. However, these 'mundane' objects sometimes do strike us with its 'exotic' presence and move us with warm appreciation," writes Korean-born Kang in her artist's statement.

The friend who gave Kang a Korean rice bowl as a gift could not have predicted that the gift would inspire the introspection that has led to her new body of work. After focusing on clothing and textiles at a university in Seoul, South Korea, she came to Hawai'i in 1981 to pursue her graduate studies. During this time she experienced many cultural awakenings. With English as a second language, Kang says, "When you encounter another culture you compare. Comments hit you and make you realize that you are different. What does 'Korean' mean? Why do they see me differently? It makes you think a lot about yourself."

After losing her mother early in life, Kang was raised by her grandmother. She has moved from culture to culture and from her roles within those cultures as daughter, granddaughter, wife, mother and teacher at Kapi'olani Community College and the University of Hawai'i. Apart from her earlier color-laden paintings, she chose "Korean colors, which are more neutral-toned, to emphasize the ideas," she said.

In "Babbling Thoughts (I & II)," the empty rice bowls toss about and seem to have a life of their own, absent of a hand to hold them in control, and without nourishment to fill them. Empty chairs invite a presence in "Foreign Correspondents (I & II)." The cutlery chaos in her smaller charcoal "Traffic" echoes her busy morning schedule. Kang has encoded the work with her own soft language.

Most of Lucas' works are exhibited either on the floor or on low pedestals. The oversized heads seem to move about in a sea of thought. "I can put endless hours of planning and labor into a piece and yet when it works it feels like a gift," writes Lucas. "Moon Watcher" is a piece that delivers a gift to the viewer. The face looks skyward and because of the white and light blue oxides applied to the clay, one can imagine a full moon, glowing on the large features. Just looking at this piece feels good. It stirs up memories.

Another surprising work, "Mourning," casts a shadow on the patterned, textured hair that cascades down one side of a face and supports the bowed head. It copies the profile in an eerie way. Beautifully installed, these works exude a profound stillness which leaves room for contemplation. The best place to park if you travel by car is around Diamond Head Theater or on campus from noon on with a pass from the Koa Gallery.