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Making their mark

As small as O'ahu is, the art community is disparate. Today, the pool of talent and creativity may be at an all-time high. Here are three artists to watch. ~Lesa Griffith

PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOAQUIN SIOPACK

Trisha Lagaso Goldberg
THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER

After graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute, Trisha Lagaso Goldberg didn't make art for 13 years. But upon her return to Hawai'i two years ago, with a husband and son, she got to work. "Those 13 years laid the foundation, and in some ways made my intellectual ground more fertile," she says. "So when I came home and planted seeds, things just grew like crazy. I can't keep up with my sketchbook." The result is eye- and brain-catching conceptual work that examines local culture. She replaced the leaves of the Hawaiian quilt breadfruit design with plantation fieldworkers' tools in honor of her Filipino grandfathers. Hawaiian bracelets are emblazoned with words like "stuck." ("I look at myself, and at other people — you get stuck here, you get stuck in traffic, you're stuck with an identity of being the girl from 'Aiea who went to Mid-Pac.") A former executive director of San Francisco's Southern Exposure community art center (and current State Foundation for Culture and the Arts staffer), Lagaso Goldberg, 37, may have the most impact as curator of thirtyninehotel's gallery. Besides featuring Island artists in shows such as last year's "metroHAWAII," she brings in emerging and established artists such as Brooklyn's Rajkamal Kahlon and San Francisco-based Julio Cesar Morales. As an emerging artist herself, Lagaso Goldberg was drawn to thirtyninehotel, "because it's borne from artists coming together to make this space happen. I'm interested in this fresh energy and trying to make something happen out of nothing."

Puni Kukahiko
THE HAWAIIAN

To leave her house in the recesses of Kalihi Valley, Puni Kukahiko hikes 10 minutes down a trail through dense forest. Her partner, Casey Jackson, is a caretaker of the nascent Kalihi Valley Nature Park, and they recently moved into a place on the 88-acre spread. They don't even have a toilet yet, but Kukahiko, 31 and a mother of two, finds succor in the rusticity. "This place is so inspiring and beautiful. I don't want to leave. The idea that our body is the land, that the land is our body, that Papahanaumoku is our mother Earth and we're a descendant of her, so our body is also the Earth, that concept is something that's all throughout my work. Even the plastic tikis," she says. She conveys love of her culture through beautifully gritty work, such as "Makua Bound," a body of mulch (cast from her own body) suspended in chain-link fencing. The collaboration with Maika'i Tubbs, the centerpiece of the Academy Art Center at Linekona's spring "Makua" show, struck a chord with art scenesters and Wai'anae farmers alike. Her "Lovely Hula Hands," chocolate hula dancers, "explore women's commodity and sexuality, and the idea of the edible body, edible culture, consumable Hawai'i, specifically the exotica of Hawaiian women." The work is in the traveling exhibition "Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 2," which opened in New York's Museum of Arts and Design in 2005 and is currently on view at the Anchorage Museum of Art & History in Alaska. Kukahiko is now busy setting up an outdoor studio at her home, eager to work on a new series of self-portraits. In this isolated clearing, surrounded by towering trees and the occasional snuffling pig, Kukahiko says she's connecting back to the land, something she hadn't done for big portions of her life: "I love being here, and I'm excited to see what it looks like in the work."

1. Detail of a cockroach mobile created by Vince Hazen.
2. Detail of a centipede used by Vince Hazen for his artwork. (Caution, image is magnified!)
3. Overall view of a pineapple image, made up of fruit flies Hazen glued to his canvas, one at a time.
4. A detail from the pineapple image.
Vince Hazen
THE TRANSFORMER

Known for his use of unexpected materials — cockroaches, fleas, dog hair, even pet cremains — Vince Hazen, 40, has gone back to "the basics of clay and fire." But the former biology major hasn't left his menagerie behind. In his basement studio at Windward Community College, he picks up a bowl with the imprints of centipedes crawling across it. The Wyoming native likes "finding something that's kind of a pest or something that's a little bit repulsive, and using art as a way to transform that idea. I like the idea of transfiguration." He cups the bowl and says, "I've always believed that art is a philosophy for life, or a type of lifestyle, more than it is an occupation. Most of my art comes from day-to-day discoveries, so I'm always waiting for epiphanies to happen." The new father (he's used his son's ultrasound in a work) is part of the four-man art collaborative AV Club, which includes Alan Konishi, Michael Sweitzer and Duncan Dempster. The group will work with McKinley High School students on a project at the Hawai'i State Art Museum in November.