Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Chat with 2012 Retrospective Artist Jennifer Owen

Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center is proud to present its 2012 Retrospective Exhibition, featuring a broad scope of work by an icon of our Maui arts community. This year we warmly welcome Jennifer Owen, internationally exhibited ceramic artist, 20+ year Hui teaching artist veteran, and visual arts coordinator and assistant professor of art at UH Maui College.

“This place is a little miracle,” says Owen of Hui No‘eau, “Having spent more than a third of my life at the Hui teaching, learning and creating, it’s such a delight to be invited for a retrospective exhibition. For so many years the Hui was my studio- this is my artistic home.”

The Hui’s retrospective series was designed to acknowledge the contributions of individuals who have made a profound influence on local art and to share their work & ideas with the general public. Formerly called the “Distinguished Artists of Hawai’i Series,” previous participants in this distinguished series have included Tadashi Sato (1992), Marian Freeman (1993), Toshiko Takaezu (1993), Masami Teraoka (1995), Shige Yamada (2000), Richard Nelson (2004) and, most recently, Darrell Orwig (2011).

“Toshiko [Takaezu] was my first ceramics teacher while I was earning my undergraduate degree at Princeton. During my senior year art exhibition she asked for one of my pieces, which was a great honor for me. About 10 years ago, she shipped that piece to me from NJ with a note saying “some day you will need this for a retrospective show.”

When we remarked about what a lovely coincidence it was Toshiko herself presented her own retrospective at the Hui, Jennifer responded, “she was there at my artistic beginning in New Jersey and she reentered my life when I relocated to Maui, this time as a visiting artist in the Hui’s ceramics studio. It really is amazing where life leads us.”

Jennifer’s “Hui History” began in 1982, immediately upon relocating from Kauai. She recalls coming in for an interview with Rob Spenser (“I got so dressed up, I had no idea what I was in for!”) to talk about a teaching gig and left with a position that would have her heading the ceramics department for the next 23 years. She hand drew a sign for a free pottery class and found it easy to sign people up for 5 – 8 week sessions. “It was a real ‘ohana, a home away from home for so many of us that were looking for studio space and new ideas” she recalls, “we slowly built structure into a formal ceramics program; we designed rules in cooperation with the Hui arts administrators, held monthly meetings and work days, built tables, paved the stable floors, and we taught everyone that wanted to learn.” Jennifer was an invited artist for the Hui’s 1987 “Handwoven Tapestries and Ceramics,” exhibition, its 1990 “Impressions, Expressions, and Collaborations” exhibition and selected for her own Solo Artist Exhibition in 1995, "Imprints in Clay."

When asked how she feels about sharing this body of work with the Hui community today, she responds, “I’m very excited about the people that are just becoming a part of this place. My style and work has varied tremendously, so I can’t wait to get feedback about the different series of works represented in this exhibit. The Hui is the best community of artists on Maui where all those exchanges can happen. I’m not that far from retirement, and when I do the Hui will be the perfect place to return to teach- my intent is to continue my life as a teacher and an artist until the day that I die; I want to continue my relationship with this community, it will be fun to keep this relationship alive. This is such an incredible environment. Coming here as an artist is also spending time in one of the most beautiful places on the island, and it's forever changing and evolving. For those that have not been here before: you’re in for a surprise!”

This free exhibition will be on view in the Hui’s main gallery 7 days a week, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm through May 4, 2012.

*Jennifer will return to the Hui this summer to teach a selection of ceramics classes. Visit our website at huinoeau.com/classes for details, coming soon.

The work of art "returned" by Owen's mentor, artist Toshiko Takaezu

-Kelly McHugh

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