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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, November 14, 2004

A happy symbiosis between teacher and student

By Victoria Gail-White
Special to The Advertiser

Jon Hamblin is a genuine original. His distinctive, modern-primitive style of combining words and images increases the volume of his artistic voice. And it is precisely this voice, and his fierce loyalty to his muse, that inspires his students at Mid-Pacific Institute to find their own creative connections and the courage to express them. In this exhibit, teacher and student Grace Kiyozuka team.

"Misplaced Light I," by Grace Kiyozuka, is a black-and-white intaglio print.

Photos by Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Men in Clouds," by Jon Hamblin, uses traditional Japanese woodblock printing techniques.
With its energetic iconography, Hamblin's work is easy to identify. It's inhabited by dark birds, figures with auric glows, clouds, stars, flying meteors, spirits and angels. These images surface from his childhood, part of which he spent in Haiti, where natural and supernatural ideas merge in everyday life.

Hamblin's 15 black-and-white woodcut prints were done while he was on sabbatical in Kyoto, Japan, last winter. There, as an artist in residence at Kyoto Seika University, he decided to venture into further unknown territory (as well as the city and the language), exploring traditional Japanese woodblock printing for the first time.

"These prints are done in the traditional style of Japanese printmaking," says Hamblin. "Instead of using a brayer or roller to roll the ink out, I used sumi-e ink and a horsehair brush to apply it onto the wood block. The paper is soaked, and the wood's got to have the right amount of moisture. It's real tricky."

Hamblin savored the opportunity to work at a more leisurely pace. He carved the images and words onto fine-grain pine plywood and printed on mulberry-based papers.

The prints in this series reflect a visual journal of his Kyoto experiences — the language barriers, the people and the places he became familiar with.

'Speaking on Paper': Recent Works

Jon Hamblin and Grace Kiyozuka

11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays

Through Nov. 27

Café Che Pasta

1001 Bishop St.


"Chikako Danced" depicts his newfound friend Chikako, a dancer, in mid-pose, surrounded by angels. "Ichigoya," a small bar around the corner, is illustrated in four sections. Figures and words move through the positive and negative (black and white) space in each section with words like, "It was raining nobody" and "I was foolishly charming myself." Each section in this piece is strong enough to stand on its own.

His first print, after a 20-year hiatus from printmaking, was "Special Occasion" — vigorously full of erupting volcanoes, flying meteors, and a man on a cloud facing a woman floating through the sky. It appears that the catastrophe of the surrounding natural world can't stop the inevitable union of the couple.

Hamblin is not only a painter and printmaker; he is also a beat poet well known for floating words through his images.

"Men in the Clouds" is a perfect example of Hamblin's active imagery. Here, figures stand on top of clouds that are not puffy cotton balls but swirling oval spirals, graphic and crisp. The simplicity of the images adds to the expressive quality of his work. It is not overcooked, even though the composition is loaded.

Hamblin motivates confidence in his students by giving them the freedom they need to find their own artistic voices. This was crucial for Grace Kiyozuka, who graduated from Mid-Pacific Institute in 1989. It seems fitting in this, her first exhibit, that she shares space with the teacher who inspired her.

Their work, although dissimilar, is symbiotic. Kiyozuka is clearly not a Hamblin clone. Her 12 black-and-white intaglio prints are mysterious, gritty and solemn.

She primarily works in black and white because she believes it strengthens the image. In the "Night Blind" series of six prints and two studies, the light is minimal. Dark, multitextured industrial-looking sections in the prints allow only a token beam of brightness to emerge, as if by chance.

"This work is about the architectural spaces that have been damaged either by weather or by war," says Kiyozuka. "I've been looking in the newspaper, and there are a lot of AP photos about all the damage that's being done by war. I clipped and collected the photos and distorted them to work them into these plates that are being recycled. So it was a challenge to work with the existing lines."

But like Hamblin, Kiyozuka manages seamlessly to merge chaos and order in her artwork. Soft areas and angled lines coexist in a balanced tension of layered obscure space.

In "Misplaced Light I," the light filtered through a shoji screen is dim and lifeless, giving the darkness a poignantly unpromising quality. "Mourning," an earlier work, is based on a photo of a bombed-out building in Sarajevo.

"Throughout the city, they put up posters of an angel to show where a child had died," says Kiyozuka. "That still moves me."

A sad, lyrical quality exists in Kiyozuka's work. In it, the phantom of memory joins what was with what was destroyed.

Whatever ray of hope this exhibit conveys does not reside solely in the artworks but in the mutual appreciation these artists have for each other's work. The pairing works, despite the disparity. And Hamblin's praise for Kiyozuka's work is at the heart of it all. "I was impressed with her as a student," he says. "Her work is very strong, and I am flattered to have a show with her."