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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 22, 2004

7 artists push their luck into a gallery

By Victoria Gail-White
Special to The Advertiser

There are many things we think of when the word "lucky" comes to mind. Good luck, lucky charms, Lucky Strikes, Lucky Luciano, as well the endless varieties of symbols and talismans for bringing luck in every culture.

"Wishing," by Karen Lee, oil on canvas.
Somehow, the concept of luck still thrives in this technologically advanced world of ours. Being lucky is an elusive and complicated concept that encompasses the multilayered experiences and memories expressed by seven women artists in the "Lucky by Seven" exhibit at workspace.

Nadine Ferraro's oil, alkyd and wax medium on gessoed paper paintings were inspired by four images of luck: the horseshoe, wishbone, lucky star and lucky penny.

"We all thought we would try to do something different from our usual work," says Ferraro. "Normally, my work is tighter. I wanted to leave these open and loose, experiment with more tertiary colors and let each one indicate which way to go with the surrounding colors."

Kloe Kang's red and earth-toned oil on canvas paintings express her fascination with daily life, communication and interpreting her luck through playing cards. Her four paintings are hung vertically. "The top one is the queen of hearts," explains Kang. "It means a woman who is trusted and generous and fair to everyone. The second one is the nine of clubs and it means talk, although I happened to make 10 and that is good luck. The next is the ace of diamonds and it signifies good news, letters, coming from far away. For me, that is my family. The bottom one is the two of spades and that signifies a lie." Kang says that a part of our communication — signs and numbers — is not easily deciphered and causes us to believe in things that aren't true.

"No. 2," from "The Girls Series," by Diana Jeon, mixed-media digital printmaking.
Karen Lee's three peachy-colored oil-on-canvas paintings reveal her concepts of luck as a Chinese-American. "I am working with Chinese words about being auspicious," says Lee. "Wishing-Lucky Star," "Auspicious" and "Sassy" incorporate figurative images of fish, stars, and ... a swimmer. When asked about the floating swimmer, Lee says, "Swimming is where I get my sense of place." For her, that is lucky.

Birgitta Leitner's "Change of Luck" is a series of six plaster, paint, wire, wood and canvas pieces that examine the darker side of the concept of luck. "I named the pieces 'Change of Luck' because I think that luck is a thing that comes and goes," says Leitner. "I had to be true to myself. These are very personal pieces about an intense period in my life. They are about a change; a change in luck also." Her series of small works became a process for Leitner that followed a sequence of experiences from despair to the promise of a new beginning.

Katherine Love's "Wish," a graphite, acrylic on paper with fabric quadtych, focuses on her ongoing interest in domestic themes.

"The title 'Wish' is about sacrifices that are made for the sake of domesticity," says Love. Her turkey images, seen from left to right, go from a healthy bird to a wishbone.

"Koi Bamboo IV," a reversed-color photograph by Chris Mitts. Above, "Chinese Knot" by Yida Wang.
"I see domesticity two ways," she says. "It is something I enjoy — home projects, cooking and taking care of family — but there is also a dark side to it that can trap women." Love treats these turkey drawings inspired by cookbooks (from the 1950s and '60s) with a background of bright colors and patterns reminiscent of that period.

Mary Mitsuda's "Lucky Species, 2004" is a large, golden-toned acrylic, polyvinyl acetate, graphite and ink on Tyvek painting. "It has to do with how we all take turns as a species," says Mitsuda. "Humans are lucky now, being at the top of the survival chain." In a style evocative of cave painting, a stacked double wheel or snowman-like image suggests our primal motivation to make marks. Mitsuda's graphite circles appear burnished from repetition and time.

Yida Wang's Chinese heritage and recent trip to China were instrumental in her decision to use mahjong jong tiles and Chinese knots in her series of three "Chinese Knot" mixed-media pieces. The "endless knot" is one of the eight Emblems of Good Luck of Chinese Buddhism, representing longevity. "In China, I bought these old sets that were missing pieces," says Wang. "There are very few full sets. Many of the old sets were destroyed because it was forbidden to play mahjong during the Cultural Revolution." mahjong, a table game, was also used for fortune-telling.

Chris Mitts. Above, "Chinese Knot" by Yida Wang.
In each work, Wang connected the bone tiles, sanded the top layer and meticulously painted on the surface three Chinese children in different gestures: welcoming a crane with a peach slice in its mouth (representing longevity); accepting a bat (the Chinese pronunciation for bat is similar to luck); and stepping on an ancient Chinese golden coin (symbolizing wealth). Each set of tiles was mounted diagonally and set in a red frame with Chinese knots at the corners.

"I like mahjong tiles, especially traditional mahjong styles, because they record an ancient culture of great insight and wisdom," writes Wang in her artist statement. "For me, the sound of mahjong tiles being moved around on a table stimulates memories of the harmonious and peaceful family relationships of my youth."

The "Lucky by Seven" artists have additional exhibits planned: January 2005 at the Contemporary Museum Cafe and in 2006 in the Academy Arts Center at Linekona.

Admirable transgressions

Diana Jeon, Chris Mitts and George Newton met while studying for their art degrees at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and Kapiolani Community College. During a conversation, Mitts and Jeon discussed the fact that they both misuse their materials from the way they are traditionally used. With the addition of Newton, a show was born.

'Lucky by Seven'

12:00-6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays

12:00-4 p.m. Sundays

Through Sept. 9

workspace gallery


'Transgressed Boundaries and Potent Fusions'

8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays

Through Sept. 24

Hawai'i Pacific University Gallery


Jeon's prints interface traditional photographic and digital media, Mitt's photographs are transformed through the developing process and Newton makes good use of waste products from packing and shipping materials for his sculptures. The result is a show (with credit due to curator Sanit Khewhok for an attractive installation) that is clean, colorful, multilayered and stimulating.

In a selection of 21 pieces from four different bodies of work ("And Sound?," "Inscrutable Equations for Growth," "Once in a Dream" and "The Girl Series"), Jeon's work, mostly figurative, deals with the concepts of safety, the socialization of girls, and women's issues (raising children, working and growing as an individual). The complex layers of colors and images in her prints are provocative.

"The title is 'Transgressed Boundaries,' " says Jeon. "Somehow, that transgression is, for me, a mixing of materials that makes a statement that I can't make using each medium alone. The way I see the world, and the things I choose to comment about in the world, are often not single-layered. When I do straight photography or just straight traditional media, it seems flat. The layers of meanings that are built into the pieces also have to do with the actual layers that are built in through Photoshop or through scanning to create the piece that ties it together. The only way I can build on those meanings is by mixing my tools. I feel that what is innate to the things I want to capture through my art isn't something I capture right out. Part of it is how I interface with the work. Through building these layers of meaning I ultimately get to a piece that says what I want to say."

Mitts's series of eleven bamboo photographs is not digitally manipulated. It is the result of enlarger-dial adjustments and holding back the magenta and cyan in the color chemical processing. Sections of her slides and transparencies are double-exposed.

"We are looking at the stalk of the bamboo superimposed with the leafy canopy, which gives a sense of being in two places at one time," she says. "I am enthralled with bamboo. It is not a tree, it is a grass, incredibly resilient and strong yet so delicate and light. It is a metaphor for my own contradictions."

Her bamboo photographic prints are a riot of hatching and weaving of brightly-colored bamboo leaves and stalks that look as if they were fresh off a loom.

Newton's eight sculptural works scrape the ceiling. Like Mitt's bamboo, his tall, thin, linear wood and aluminum structures sway in the gallery — fragile-looking yet strong.

His three kinetic aluminum works are part of a series called "Euclides Dream," based on geometry. In "Euclides Dream Series: Angles into Squares" the spotlight on the sculpture gives it the added advantage of a shadow. This wall shadow reshapes itself along with visual lines of the sculpture as the viewer moves around it, changing the squares into diamond shapes.

"These pieces will move nicely with a light breeze," says Newton.

In his "Vertical Form Series," scalloped redwood filler for packing corrugated roofing is sandwiched between pieces of aluminum. This series is suggestive of totems and tribal patterns.

Newton's statement speaks for all three of these artists:

"Imaginative interpretations can be realized when ordinary things are freed from their everyday use." This work explores this liberating potential.