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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 11, 2006

Inside an artist's studio

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Yvonne Cheng works on one of her paintings at her studio in Palolo. Cheng's main subject is Polynesian women.

Photos by ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Cheng takes a break. She loves her working space for its decidedly country feel.

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Tucked away in the back of Palolo Valley is a mondo-grass farm that serves as the "front yard" for artist Yvonne Cheng's studio. The backyard is a lush tropical garden of ginger, heliconia and a dramatic stand of royal palms. It's a paradise for an artist's palette.

In the studio, Cheng works her magic with acrylic paint on huge canvases, sharing space with her dogs, Kula and Sunday, who have the best of both worlds: At home in Makiki, they are lazy city dogs; in Palolo, they are country dogs running free.

Most of her works are large murals created on commission. They can be seen in the Hilton Hawaiian Village Kalia Tower, Mariposa restaurant in Neiman Marcus, the Grand Wailea Resort on Maui, and in the Hawai'i State Art Museum. Her work also was featured in the Hono-lulu Academy of Art's Showcase 2006.

Born in 1941 in Surabaya, Indonesia, Cheng has lived in Hawai'i since 1967.


Advertiser writer Paula Rath mingles with fashionistas, artists and makeup mavens every day and gleans insider information. This occasional series will give readers an insider's view of stylish and creative Islanders. What does a style diva have in the closet? Where does an artist get inspiration? And next: What are the secrets of an expert makeup artist?

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Age: 65.

Neighborhoods: Palolo (studio) and Makiki (home).

An artful routine: "I work every day except Sunday. Usually I try to work from 9 to 5 or 10 to 6, and sometimes I come back in the evenings. Evening is so quiet up here, so there are no distractions."

Finding inspiration: "Any time, anywhere. A lot of times it comes from watching people. Foliage is from right around my studio. ... My colors are a little different now. I'm more known for my rich colors, but (recent work featured at the Honolulu Academy of Arts) is earthy and subtle. I received a postcard from the academy of an old Greek mural, and it was all off white and grays, and that's how I started working in those colors."

Greatest strength: "My sense of color. Color has always been my fascination."

Weakness: "I struggle with how to get the depth in my figures sometimes."

Biggest self-indulgence: "To take off and do whatever I feel like doing. It might be a massage or repotting a plant or going to a Neighbor Island — just not to have to wake up in the morning with a certain schedule."

Favorite hobby: "Sewing patchwork quilts and hand embroidery. I have a strong nesting instinct."

Usual haunt: "Foster Garden, plant sales and coffee places."

Painting uniform: "T-shirts and jeans with a paint-spattered apron."

Clothing is an art: "I like to combine things. I like high fashion and designer things from time to time, but I like to combine them with funkier things. I have collected Japanese kimonos and antique beads for 25 years, and I design necklaces with them. I like antique things, especially Asian antiques."

Why art? "It's like breathing to me. Sometimes it's intense, and sometimes I relax. It's part of my everyday life. It's not only painting or drawing or textile design — it goes to how I decorate my house, present my food, design my garden — how I do everything."

What about artist's block? "The more you try to correct it, the worse it gets. Take a deep breath, take a walk and let it pass through you. Time will take care of things. ... I've learned it will pass because art is so deep-rooted in me. Sometimes I'll start stitching more or reading more and looking at art books or going to see shows to feed myself until something clicks, and then I'm fine."

Motto: " 'Will it matter a year from now?' More than 95 percent of the time it won't, so I let it go. Once I've determined that, I feel better about it."

Reach Paula Rath at paularath@aol.com.