Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 12, 2003

For his art, Otsuka's new colors are black and white

Advertiser Staff

Seven years have passed since Hisashi Otsuka last showed his work in Honolulu, a conspicuous absence for one of Hawai'i's most prominent artists of the 1980s and 1990s.

Hisashi Otsuka has focused on Japanese themes. Now he's ready to go Hawaiian.

Advertiser library photo

Otsuka, who helped redefine Asian art with his colorful examination of traditional Japanese themes, returns to the Honolulu scene this weekend with a collection of recent black-and-white work.

The show, tomorrow through Sunday at Fine Art Hawaii in Restaurant Row, is sponsored by Lahaina Gallery, with which Otsuka has been associated in recent years.

Otsuka created a special poster for the showing. Autographed copies (unframed) will be on sale for $50 on Sunday, with proceeds benefiting the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.

An apprentice to Japanese kimono design master Tateo Jo at the age of 15, Otsuka rose to prominence with his examinations of traditional Japanese subjects, and later with his daring "Lady Mieko" series, "neo-deco" work and depictions of legendary figures such as the 36 Immortal Poets and the 47 Ronin.

He has been based in Hawai'i since 1981, when he signed on with the now-defunct Images International, which helped make him one of the top-selling artists in Hawai'i. By the end of the decade, Otsuka's pieces were displayed prominently in galleries, homes and boardrooms, status symbols as much as works of fine art.

His withdrawal from the Honolulu scene began when Images International went out of business in the early 1990s.

Hisashi Otsuka

• What: New works from Hisashi Otsuka

• Where: Fine Art Hawaii, Restaurant Row

• When: 5 to 9 p.m. tomorrow, 1 to 4 p.m. and 6:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday

• Miscellaneous: Autographed posters will be on sale for $50 on Sunday. Proceeds go to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.

Otsuka says the company treated clients "not bad, but not nice." So when local galleries asked him to show his work, he politely said no.

"I was uncomfortable," he said.

Still, the interim years were busy with art shows around the world and new outlets for his creative energy.

For the last five years, Otsuka has devoted himself to refining a technique he developed of using black ink on kiyupora, a synthetic fabric similar to silk.

The technique, he emphasized, is different from sumi-e, traditional Japanese black-ink painting.

"Sumi-e is more brush strokes," he said. "I like more detail."

Otsuka used the technique before as background for colored pieces, but his current pieces explore the medium more fully.

"Even when I work in black and white, if I close my eyes I can still see color," he said. "(The challenge) is making (the viewer) see color even in black and white."

Through all his evolving styles and fascinations, Otsuka's fidelity to painting is unshakable.

"I can't drive, I can't cook," he said. "I just paint. Seven days a week I paint. Sometimes I even paint on airplanes."

A typical day finds him working from early morning to sundown, stopping only for meals, he said.

"Some artists say they take six months or one year to create a painting. ... How can people live six months on one painting?

"When someone asks me how long does it take to paint something, I always joke, 'I want to eat filet mignon, (so) I work fast.' "

A simple but elegantly appointed apartment in Waikiki serves as his home base, though the artist is often elsewhere, attending gallery openings on the West Coast or spending the summer at his other home in Le Vesinet, France.

The annual sojourns in France are hardly idle affairs. Surrounded by peace and quiet, the artist says, he sometimes works on 10 separate pieces a day. Le Vesinet's proximity to Paris also gives him a chance to take note of the newest colors and fashions.

This summer, Otsuka plans to introduce Hawaiian themes into his black-and-white paintings.

"I've never tried Hawaiian themes before," he said. "I won't do anything commercial. I'll just take my camera everywhere and shoot everything. Then, this summer, I'll create with Hawaiian themes."