Press Essays


By Gordy Grundy
The Thoroughbreds Of The Honolulu Biennial
I am laying my money down. The Honolulu Biennial is going to be a huge success and a great boon to the state. The well-established concept has all of the right elements of innovation, location and brilliance for international art world support, a universe I know much about, hence my bet. My prognostications are solidly grounded in the simple fact that the creators and management of the Honolulu Biennial know what they are doing. The foundation is well experienced for this brave, new venture. I have no doubt of its success.

Thirteen Artists Bare It All

Recently at the metro Modern Honolulu hotel, the Honolulu Biennial presented another round of local artists who offered their work to a standing room only crowd of art lovers, friends and very interesting people. Thirteen artists, from throughout the islands, were given four minutes to add commentary to ten of their images that were projected on a screen.

The shogun lording over the event is Fumio Nanjo, director of the wildly applauded Mori Art Museum in Tokyo and curatorial director of the first Honolulu Biennial. He will be selecting 50 to 60 artists to show at the 2017 international event.

Artist Janetta Napp was the first to rise. Now back home on O’ahu, Napp is Hawai’i born and raised, with several decades making art in Europe. As an artist, her work is the most cosmopolitan and internationally contemporary. Her sculptures, installations and organic drawings are beautiful and hold your interest. At the end of her presentation, she debuted a video clip from a new work that is jaw-droppingly sensational and beautifully meditative. For lack of space, I will tell you all about it in a future issue of Hula Moon. Napp was most taken with the work of a fellow presenter. Tom Sewell has beautifully documented the Hawai’i sugar mills. Napp’s father, with family in tow, had a career working the various sugar mills across the islands. A deep chord was plucked.

With a great love of Hawai’i, Meala Bishop presented her series of local landscape paintings. She is a talented painter of bright colors, pointillistic detail and impressionistic gestures. When she sincerely implores that it is “Time to live Aloha!” I believe her.

Vincent Goudreau is a multimedia artist and a documentarian. His film and photo work often deals with human displacement. True to his aesthetic, Goudreau is moving to an artist’s residency in Soviet Georgia where palm trees and lychee are scarce.

Presentations such as these often thwart the natural romance that develops between the viewer and the artist. You get a lot of information upfront, some of which is not necessary.

Ocean loving artist Mary Babcock creates painstaking sculptures of great beauty. Her tapestries color the sea and dance with its currents. Not that you necessarily need to know, but her materials are discarded gillnets, ropes and plastics, the detritus of industrial man and consumption. She had me at first beauty.

In this wave of thirteen artists, every age, sex and experience was represented. A native of the Big Island, Kamran Samimi is a recent UH grad, a sculptor and printmaker. His love of Hawai’i and his eagerness to make art and to explore any new avenue of its journey is contagious. We want to cheer him on!

Jason Teraoka is another explorer and discoverer. Sailing on his considerable painting skills, Teraoka is an artist in full bloom, a seeker of style and meaning. Each wave he has ridden is interesting and purposeful. We know he is looking for the next.

At the Modern Honolulu, many of the artists had the jitters. Theirs is a visual medium, conceived alone. A public speech is beyond the pale.

Elisa Chang documents the human flotsam and jetsam that washes up on the Waikiki shore. She photographs les touristes with great humanity and an eye on color and design.

Another recent UH grad, Ualani Davis loves making and teaching art. Together, these energies create a body of socially and political driven work that is designed to inspire her students. Davis makes art that is a tool and a means.

Aloha and the love of the islands is one of the most beautiful and significant aspects of the evening’s presentations. Many of the artists were greatly influenced. Meleanna Meyer is a proud Hawai’ian. She is producing a series of photographic abstractions, a construction of images that transcend the medium as painterly gestures.

Hawai’i is not a required fingerprint. The paintings of Jodi Endicott are influenced by her study of the tidal flow of the Dow Stock Exchange. As a mixed media sculptor, with efforts that made me smile, her public works can be found throughout the islands.

Using rubber cut from bicycle tire tubes, Eli Baxter creates beautiful sculptures that are floral, industrial, organic and a little bit naughty.

These presentations are essentially a casual ‘show and tell,’ yet the stakes are high for the artists. To be included in the inaugural exhibition would be an art career coup.

The most enchanting work of the evening successfully evokes the mysteries of the sea. Printmaker and photographer Bruna Stude tackles the ethereal in many interesting ways. She is aggressively pushing her envelope.

Tom Sewell of Maui closed the show. He has a talent for finding art in unusual places. He has created a visual archive of Hawai’i sugar mills that he uses to create dynamic projections for stunning installations. The showmanship reminded me of the Blue Chip projection work of Doug Aiken.

Fumio Nanjo is here making another of his many journeys to the islands to visit their artist’s studios. “This is a process of learning,” says Nanjo, “I am struck by so many talents and too many great artists. We may even have to expand the capacity of the show. No one (in the art world) is exhibiting the work of this Pacific region.” Nanjo will soon focus his attention on the artists of the Big Island.

The great search is on! The Honolulu Biennial is moving spectacularly forward.