Thursday, June 9, 2011

2011 Solo Artist Exhibition: ABOUT

Late last year, the Hui No‘eau exhibition committee distributed an open call to artists in search of those rare individuals that would/ could rise to the challenge that is the Solo Artist Exhibition. One of the only of its kind in the state of Hawai‘i, this highly respected exhibition provides emerging as well as established artists the unique opportunity to be intricately involved in all facets of planning and installing a completely new body of work. It has been instrumental in furthering the careers and artistic growth of those selected, with a roster that includes Margo Ray, Eli Baxter, and Jaisy Hanlon—each now a vital part of our community arts conversation.

"As a practicing artist in Hawaii, I was honored by the opportunity to compete for and be awarded a Solo Artist Exhibition in a community art space like the Hui. The exercise of completing the application, and then curating one's own work was invaluable. The space itself is a wonderful place to show one's art and the staff was very helpful. The fact that there are so few opportunities in Hawaii for an artist to have a solo show makes the opportunity all the more invaluable. I also appreciated the ability to reach an audience beyond Oahu." –Deborah Nehmad (2006 Solo Artist)

In February 2011, the Hui announced this year’s Solo Artists, challenging Maui-based artists Sidney Yee and Kevin Omuro, and O‘ahu-based artist Scott Groeniger to create, curate and install a new body of work by the June opening date. We’ve been checking in with them along the way, not only to get a first-hand look at the work, but in search of the various ways in which it relates to the thousands of people who will walk through our doors throughout the exhibition, curious to learn not so much about the “how?” as the “why?”.

Sidney Yee & Kevin Omuro are old friends, having enjoyed a varied relationship over the years: doctor/patient (when the two met, Omuro was Yee’s dentist), teacher/student (Yee guided Omuro in advanced ceramic techniques, inspiring him to move beyond bowls to more expressive forms), and chef/taste tester (Omuro often cooks dinner for Yee and his wife). Their collaborative presentation, entitled “I Turned to the Turnip,” will explore the relationships between subject, technique, design and form in Yee’s textured acrylic paintings on wood panels, complemented by Omuro’s porcelain sculptures, saggar-fired in natural earth elements—both influenced by a minimalist Asian aesthetic and the artists’ roots in Chinese culture.

Yee is a gentle man, choosing his words with care and thoughtfulness. When asked “WHY the turnip?” he initially replies, “Why not?” before delving into a series of personal anecdotes. “My grandmother was the only Chinese influence in my upbringing in Honolulu,” he states, “and when she passed away, my link to Chinese culture passed away with her. It wasn’t until much later in life, when I was challenged by a college professor to paint with a color scheme that represented my roots, that I began to explore this history again. One day as I was walking down the street, I passed a vegetable stand carrying turnips in the perfect shades of red and gold that I had been envisioning in my head. Prior to that occurrence, a friend of mine had given me a psychic reading, revealing that I had deep roots in China, like a turnip coming out of the ground. So, I turned to the turnip, not just as a symbol for culture, but also for its organic shape and texture.”

Yee’s exhibiting counterpart, Kevin Omuro, likes to talk with his hands; it’s no wonder he’s an expert ceramicist. He is expressive, jovial and makes a mean cup of coffee. “The turnip!?” he exclaims in his home-based studio, with a feigned sense of outrage. “Come on, let’s show people that you can turn nothing into something interesting and even possibly enjoy it. Get outside of that box!”

“I asked Kevin to work with me on this proposal because I identify with his style,” says Yee. “His forms are clean, his process is Zen-like. I’ve always seen his ceramics as a natural fit to my paintings; his pots are just like turnips.”


Before meeting Sidney, I had studied ceramics for a few years, making functional pieces that weren’t entirely inspiring for me,” responds Omuro. “I knew he had studied ceramics, and asked him to tutor me, so I could get to a place ‘beyond bowls.’ Focusing on design and form over function, I soon learned that we both gravitated toward making pieces that we are culturally comfortable with. With Sidney’s help, I began finding inspiration in Asian-influenced work; moving toward Zen, organic, asymmetrical pieces. Now I have three different kilns in my backyard, and am still continually fascinated by what the pottery fairy releases from the fire!”

Providing a bit of yang to the Yee-Omuro yin comes the site-specific, large-scale photographic collages of 2011 Solo Artist Scott Groeniger, who will use digital media to examine China’s rapid industrialization and transformed landscapes in “Welcome to the New Lifestyle.”

Meeting with Groeniger in his O‘ahu-based studio via Skype (a fitting digital environment, considering his artistic medium), we learn that his past life in mass media communication theory and cellular telephone technology was the driving force of inspiration that led him to his art form. “This was a bit about control for me,” he says, while ardently rolling out his works in progress. “I grew up in the middle of nowhere, Ohio, watching farmland rapidly transform into huge suburban housing developments and strip malls. Digital photography allows me to control that environment; to capture in time the places where food grows rapidly evolving into places that sell it pre-packaged and made in China.”

Groeniger’s body of work examines an aesthetically energetic fascination with the symbiotic relationship between China’s industrial expansion and the natural world, likening this correlation to the “paradise” of Maui versus that of China’s rural Shanxi Province. His pieces are vector-based collaged prints created in Illustrator, scaled down from individual billboard-sized installations that have only been shown in China. “Technically this work is completely radical; just a few years ago archival pigment prints of this kind would not have lasted more than eight weeks. The technical advancements that have been made in the medium are unprecedented.”

Generally speaking, our Solo Artists do not share an obvious commonality—so we all found it (pleasantly) interesting that the three will band together in the coming weeks to collaboratively install their new bodies of work, each a commentary of sorts of their relationship to and with China.

And as for the “why,” please join us at next Friday’s opening reception to meet the artists, view their work and learn for yourself first-hand. In the meantime, consider these answers:

Groeniger: Why? I don’t have a choice.

Omuro: Why? Because I enjoy it.

Yee: Why? Why not?

Mark your calendars:

Opening Reception for the 2011 Solo Artist Exhibition: Friday, June 17 (5:00 pm – 7:00 pm) / FREE

2011 Solo Artist Exhibition: Saturday, June 18 – Saturday, July 23 (Mon – Sat, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm)/ FREE

Walk-through with 2011 Solo Artist Scott Groeniger: Saturday, June 18, 12:00 pm / FREE

Walk-through with collaborating 2011 Solo Artists Sidney Yee & Kevin Omuro: Saturday, July 9, 12:00 pm / FREE
Workshop with Scott Groeniger, “Raster Meets Vector”: Sunday, June 19, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Workshop with Kevin Omuro, “In the Style of Omuro”: Saturday July 16, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm

Visit us online for more.

Learn about the 2009 Solo Artists
Learn about the 2010 Solo Artists

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