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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2005

Artists commune with nature

By Victoria Gail-White
Special to The Advertiser

Sometimes when artists communicate with nature, nature talks back. The ability to translate that conversation into a discernible visual language is a skill that few practice and even fewer possess.

"Leaf Litter: Lace Flower" by Lori Uyehara; mixed-media wood; 8 1/2 by 6 by 3 inches

Koa Gallery photographs

Mary Mitsuda and Lori Uyehara do, and their joint exhibit at Koa Gallery is an exquisite synthesis of those conversations.

New dimensions unfold in Mitsuda's new body of 14 abstract works of acrylic on canvas and panel and rusted steel.

In "Relic," she joins forces with nature, using actual rust as a paint medium on the steel surface. The effect is captivating. Mitsuda and corrosion unite to bring to light an extraterrestrial marsh-like landscape that also resembles a stalactite cave. The reddish matte color of the varying levels of rust creates a depth of field, while the charcoal gray metallic surface of the steel reflects light. The simplicity of this concept is the key that opens the door into a dream dimension that appears to traverse time and space.

"This is the first time I have worked with steel," says Mitsuda. "The idea of working with rust was a perfect extrapolation of my painting. Rust is a natural process and it is always coming down, making a vertical mark and directing your eye."

Mitsuda uses a rubber spatula when she paints. Working with both hands, she layers acrylic paint in segmented patterns that suggest photographs, calendars and the pages of a book.

"Veils" by Mary Mitsuda; acrylic on panel; 36 by 36 inches

Koa Gallery photographs

However, the controlled drips and sections in her more recent works, including the rusted steel paintings in this exhibit, suggest a visual interruption that Mitsuda finds fascinating.

"The visual fact of the interruption is really interesting psychologically because it is the theme of everybody's life," says Mitsuda. "I let myself be guided by what my eye is naturally attracted to, the things that interrupt me. I have a found object theory of art. Your eye is naturally attracted to things and it's important to look at what your eye seeks out and why. Some people seek out things that other people find ugly. What kind of information are you letting in? It is not an accident that you are drawn to the same kinds of things. This applies to the kind of art that you are attracted to. The great discovery is things that attract you without you planning to have them attract you."

These are abstracts that arouse the imagination. "Persephone" (acrylic on panel) reads like an ancient story. One might easily imagine the 11th-century Japanese court lady Murasaki Shikibu peeking through the screen to view the floating golden blossoms. "Winter" (acrylic on panel) clearly brings to mind a snow-shoveled hunk of New York sidewalk. "Forecast" (acrylic on panel) is more like an idealistic weather report. Defined areas of clouds in a blue sky are interspaced among clouds in a stormy gray sky. This long vertical piece (80 by 24 inches) suggests the daily story the sky tells of patience and change, states of mind, distance and letting go.

Mary Mitsuda Paintings, Lori Uyehara Sculptures

10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays through

Fridays; 10 a.m.i2 p.m. Saturdays

Through Feb. 10

Koa Gallery, Kapi'olani Community College


At first glance "Watch," Mitsuda's largest work (72 by 72 inches), looks as if the ochre-colored drips of paint with their feather-like endings were made of shifu paper or yarn, giving the piece the illusion of movement.

This collection is Mitsuda's best work to date. The joy of her exploration is palpable; the exuberance of her discoveries infectious.

Uyehara is a true Renaissance artist. She excels at whatever medium she decides to work in — clay, paint, fiber or in this case, wood.

In this outstanding new body of work she continues to use recycled wood scraps to create 12 wood sculptures and two mixed works. She uses the natural palette of colors from the pine, koa, mahogany, lychee, eucalyptus and purple-red padouk woods as well as assorted leftover trimmings from the remodeling of her house to reveal the natural beauty of the wood itself. The result is inspiring.

"Timeline" by Lori Uyehara; acrylic on Masonite; collage, wood; 80 by 12 by 3 inches

Koa Gallery photographs

"As a modern civilization strives to meet the needs of an ever-expanding consumer culture," she writes in her statement, "it can choose to see the world in terms of things with value and those without. Eager to maximize time and profit it becomes easy to discard what takes time to understand: easy to cast off people and ideas that do not readily fit the dominant view. It becomes easy to view everything as consumer and commodity. Yet, even as our culture chooses to shatter and fragment the natural world there is still beauty in its shards."

Uyehara takes those shards to another level. In "Fragile Chorus" (86 by 17 by 14 inches), sections of different-colored woods are constructed into a tree, complete with carved birds and leaves.

It is obvious in these works that she is not from the Humpty Dumpty School of reconstruction. Her connections, carvings and laminated pieces are smooth and perfect, the product of thoughtful planning as well as much sanding and oiling. Discarded Christmas trees never looked better. Everything is sketched out in advance, even though a sketch may change as her ideas go through various reiterations. The form is structured although she works intuitively, piecing the woods together.

"Using wood is a finite thing," says Uyehara. "It is very different from clay because if you hack into the wood you have to make sure the wood is going to be for that purpose."

The curves in her wood sculptures are a delightful treat for the eyes. "Lifeline" connects two chunks of wood by a twisty umbilical cord made out of wood segments.

"I like to have the material speak for itself," says Uyehara, "so when you do see it outside you can relate to it in its raw state." We are granted a glimpse of the intense interplay between Uyehara and nature, a conversation that is punctuated with a poignant sense of humor.

Her tender messages about nature's fragility are revealed in her use of egg shapes in "Renewal," a predominantly lychee-wood sculpted snake with a removable egg at its head. Small twigs with darker leaves surround the head area and create gorgeous shadows on the pedestal.

Deeply concerned with environmental issues, Uyehara explores the extinction of birds in "Timeline" (acrylic on Masonite with collage elements and wood branch and woodcarving). The painting portion of this work reveals a dark scene with koa forests and mountains punctuated by a yellow honeycreeper in flight and three white eggs. Collage elements of birds that are extinct or near extinction grace the lower section.

Uyehara doesn't hit you over the head with her message. It is more like an invitation to take a walk through her forest.

This show is beautifully installed — strong and powerful, but not loud. It is more the invention of two art whisperers rather than two art divas.

Victoria Gail-White is The Advertiser's art reviewer.