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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 14, 2004

UH faculty exhibit illustrates richness

By David C. Farmer
Special to The Advertiser

 •  'The Faculty Art Exhibition'

Works by fine-arts faculty, Department of Art and Art History, University of Hawai'i-Manoa

UH-Manoa Art Gallery

Through April 8

10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekdays, noon to 4 p.m. Sundays (closed Saturdays)


Economic survival as an artist — whether visual, performing, or literary — isn't easy in the Islands. Unless one is blessed with an international or national reputation, a day job is necessary.

As a result, teaching has traditionally served here as a way to survive with a somewhat reduced impact on the inevitable sacrifice to staying in touch with your passion and your craft.

At the University of Hawai'i-Manoa art and art history departments, the old adage that "those who can, do; those who can't, teach" simply hasn't applied. Such disparate world-class artists as Jean Charlot, Max Ernst, and Tony Smith, as well as many lesser- known but talented artist/teachers, have enriched students' immersion in what still remains, after all, an apprenticeship initiation.

"The Faculty Art Exhibition," works by more than 30 of the department's fine-arts faculty now on display, demonstrates the richness and variety of resources available to this generation of art students.

The range of materials and aesthetics present an exhibition designer with some real challenges. For the most part, these are well met.

Greeting the visitor at the entrance is Mamoru Sato's "Scape 04-1," a cool and subtle mixed-media kinetic sculpture that encapsulates a distinguished artistic and teaching career. Its minimalist aesthetic is enhanced by the subtle music of its movement.

Tiare Dutcher's surreal plaster-of-paris bandage body sculpture, "Dream," though hardly expressive of a breakthrough sensibility, holds its own in the first-floor area of the exhibition.

Literary baggage

Next up are three pieces informed with heavy doses of literary baggage.

Maile Andrade's mixed-media "Shifting Paradigms" invokes the lines from Archibald MacLeish's "Ars Poetica?": "A poem should not mean / But be."

Laura Ruby shows two pieces with contrasting materials and moods. "Annexation at Necker" is a lovely screen print that escapes the bounds of mere storytelling to produce a more universal felt response of sadness as to things irreparably lost. "Shibai Museum Faaade (Prevue for the Real Thing)" dominates the 'ewa/makai corner of the exhibition space, both visually and in its playful but pointed questioning of institutional cultural appropriation. With its placard reading "Coming Soon: Who Owns Culture?" and its three monkeys all seeing no evil, the piece gently but eloquently speaks to all who can still see, hear, and think for themselves.

Karen Lucas' skillful wood and plaster sculptures "Stump" and "Crotch of a Tree," featuring human body details growing out of tree parts, also utilize a visual medium to communicate, in this case, not-too-subtle puns.

Hawai'i masters

On display are the works of some of our own masters, artists whose sensibilities and work have enriched our artistic landscape for many years.

"#5 of 6 Panel Installation, There are 86,400 Seconds in a Day" is Ron Kowalke's enigmatic, tough and tactile assemblage of mixed-media elements of copper BB pellets and a used paint brush that insinuates subconscious messages in a way unique to the products of skillful and intuitive craftsmanship.

Fred Roster's whimsy is again in evidence with "Happy Birthday," a richly rendered bronze cake with figures, and "Young Monkey," a very tongue-in-cheek schematic wood rendering of the named subject.

Broken pottery shards reconstructed into three torso figures by Suzanne Wolf create in "Who are We?" a powerful yet intimate existential probing.

It is in this area of the gallery that the exhibition design stumbles. The middle wall more or less separating the space in halves looks underutilized, devoted as it is to a small array of Gayle Chan's chromogenic prints.

By contrast, Ryuta Nakajima's "Tokyo Story?" mixed-media paintings nicely fill the available space on the other side of the same wall.

Special quality

At the end of the exhibition's counter-clockwise perambulation are two pieces of special quality.

J.R. Ludlow's "And I Believed Her" is evocative, poetic and enigmatic, with a tactile presence of extraordinary sensitivity. The piece consists of several wall-mounted porcelain funnels containing a wiry black something, with blond, apparently human hair cascading beneath each one.

By far the most haunting piece in the show is Jeeun Kim's "Dream of Returning Home," consisting of salt brick boats suspended on nylon filament lines. Although previously exhibited, the piece still speaks freshly with all the heartbreak and yearning that inform the universal desire to come home.

Other pieces demonstrate alternative strategies.

Debra Drexler plays with art history allusions in "Picnic in the Grass," a painterly acrylic on canvas.

Ka-Ning Fong continues to mine a Edward Hopper-esque aesthetic vein with a local touch in the oil painting "The Garden of Proserpine." The painter's solid academic life-drawing draftsmanship is also demonstrated in a languid pastel nude, "Red on Blue."

Pia Stern's stylistically familiar oils reference realms of unsettled mystery and shamanistic ritual that are sensually pleasing, extremely delicate, yet oddly disturbing.

Linda Kane delights in the tension between the real (or at least the palpable) and the trompe d'oeil in "Long After the Journey," a shadowy construct consisting of charcoal on paper and a wood column casting a real shadow in dialogue with the drawn shadow.

Stan Tomita's silver gelatin print "Witness," while not displayed to maximum advantage because of light glare, is one of the few impressive photographs in an exhibition otherwise lacking in quality work in this medium.

Perhaps as a sign of our times, a sense of humor is also generally lacking in the works on display. David Landry's "Landing Vehicle for Transit Between Parallel Tubular Universes," a sculpture consisting of mounted caster wheels prominently identified as made in Japan, is one of the few exemplars of a more light-hearted approach.

Some missteps

The exhibition is not without its missteps and flat notes.

Peter Chamberlain's "Talking Heads: Words of Minority Dissent From Series: Prosthetic Devices for Rapidly Aging Activist Poets" — consisting of recycled army helmets, wood enamel and electronics — was to this reviewer's sensibility visually boring and acoustically annoying.

The stereoscopic digital images of Robert Rodeck, which require the use of 1950s era 3-D glasses, are simply not worth the effort to strain through a glass darkly to see phantom curtains caught in the wind in his "Terrorist Motel Room" series.

Norman Graffam Jr.'s oil "Na Lilia" is simply a journeyman's effort without any apparent panache or special significance.

Finally, especially disappointing is the slap-dash display of design work of Richard Bigus and Anne Bush.

Rather than mounted in a professional and pleasing manner, the designs are apparently simply glued to the gallery walls.

Across the hall in the Commons Gallery is a rotating display of student work. See if you can spy out the relationship between the work of these artists/teachers and that of their student apprentices.

David C. Farmer wrote a Sunday art column from 1975 to 1976. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and drawing and a master's degree in Asian and Pacific art history.