Island renaissance artist Khewhok wins Cox Award
By Victoria Gail-White
Special to The Advertiser
This year's coveted Catharine E.B. Cox Award for excellence in the visual arts has been given to Sanit Khewhok. The biennial award includes a cash prize and a solo exhibition in July at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
Khewhok, a humble, often humorous and down-to-earth artist, has been an active member of the local art scene for over two decades. He is a consummate renaissance artist: painter, sculptor, curator, conservator and art restorer.
He spent 100 days as a Buddhist monk, and paints portraits on pills that require viewing through a magnifying glass, wooden ice cream spoons and miniature books.
Born in Trang, Thailand, in 1944, Khewhok graduated from Silpakorn University in Bangkok and received a four-year scholarship to study in Rome, at the Academy of Fine Arts. He graduated with a master's degree in mural painting and conservation.
After working at Bangkok's National Gallery as curator of modern art, he moved to Hawai'i in 1986 and devoted 20 years to The Contemporary Museum in Makiki as chief conservator and collections manager. He now curates the Hawai'i Pacific University Art Gallery and shows his work at Cedar Street Galleries.
"Khewhok's paintings encourage you to converse with them," says Rui Sasaki, assistant curator for special projects with the European and American Art Department at the Academy of Arts.
"One reads stories or emotions into the snapshot moments that he captures. His use of line and color is reminiscent of the Old Masters, but his captured moments and compositions are undeniably contemporary."
Q. What is the title of your exhibit, and what kind of work are you going to show?
A. It seems to touch my heart, my soul. They inspire me, somehow. We deal with people all the time, but we don't really concentrate on them that much. So I just want to emphasize that human beings are the ones who are important. Also, if you take all this too seriously, you go crazy. So, sometimes I need to release it, and this is the way I enjoy myself.
Q. Your sense of humor and enjoying yourself are obviously a big part of your experience as an artist. How did that come about?
A. It was that time in my life when I felt like I was banging my head. I worked in the Fine Art Department and wanted to get away. I thought the best way to do that was to go to the temple and meditate. When you just start meditation, most people feel headaches, sleepy. I had the same feelings. One day, I looked on the ground and saw some pieces of small bamboo. I wanted to forget the headache, so I started putting them together. It was a breakthrough from my academic training, utilizing all the material that I happened to find in front of me. When you are trained academically, it's sometimes hard to break through. From that moment on, I felt I could do anything I wanted with my art. I just took off. Later on, I did a series of works based on what I did that day.
Q. Did you study conservation to inform your own artwork?
A. I was definitely influenced by the miniature portraits in the Vatican. Francisco de Goya, Diego Velazquez, and the sculptor Alberto Giacometti impress me. And a disturbing work I remember, even now, hit me profoundly when I saw it — Caravaggio's painting, "Judith Beheading Holofernes."