Monday, July 2, 2012

Meet the Hui's 2012 Solo Artists

Valerie Kim: "Mi'o 1, Swiftly As a Stream of Water, Kohala"

Billy Welker, "Self Portrait"

Each year, Hui No‘eau’s exhibition committee distributes an open call to Hawai‘i artists in search of proposals for the Solo Artist Exhibition. In January, the committee members chose two remarkable individuals from the pool of applicants: Valerie Yong Ock Kim, a photographer from the Big Island, and Haiku painter Billy Welker.

Val’s series is called "LIGHT SPEED MATTER, A STILL PLACE WAITING," and is comprised of photographic archival pigment prints, a video projection, and a new presentation of photographs in cast glass. It is broken into three parts: Still Image, Refractions, and Chasing Photons. Images were made in places like Chicago, London, California and the Hawaiian Islands. They suspend the viewer in a frozen yet moving landscape, at the edge of a black hole, where time slows down and a still place is found.

Billy will present “Configuration,” a collection of portraits and figure studies in oils. The figure as subject is simultaneously basic and familiar, intimidating, spiritual and emotional. His own interest in the figure as inspiration stems from the irresistible and timeless urge to document and celebrate humanity, and a regard and fascination for art and human history.

This exhibition provides the community with intimate access to the participating artists, gaining a critical perspective on the way they work, and how and why their body of work came to be. Artists are invited to “tell their stories” — so we checked in with Billy and Val to learn more about their unique backgrounds in art-making, creative processes, and why they do what they do.

What is your history with art-making?

Val: I picked up a camera as a kid, chasing my sister around the house in Kahaluu (Oahu). I always wanted to be an artist, and loved to sketch and draw, but as the daughter of a science teacher and electrical engineer, it didn’t seem practical at the time. I was in the psychology field for 10 years, and even then incorporated visual images into my work. I have no formal training, but throughout the last decade have taken opportunities to study with different artists and printers. This series began in 2003.

Billy: I hung on to a childlike fascination with drawing longer than most. After studying fine arts at Wayne State University in Detroit, I stepped away from it for 30 years — broke, and baffled at “modern art” — and learned carpentry and contracting. This satisfied a compulsion to engage mind and hands to solve puzzles, and paid the bills to raise a family. In 2005, I injured my right arm badly enough to require three months’ inactivity in a sling. During this time I signed up for a figure drawing class at the Hui taught by Caleb O’Connor. I followed this with a painting workshop; a forgotten pleasure, though I quickly remembered it as all-consuming, hard work. I have since retired from contracting and now paint every day. At age 63, this is my first solo exhibition. As de Kooning once said, “Imagine, a grown man, and I paint pictures.”

Why did you apply for this exhibition, and what has been your experience creating work for it?

Val: The Hui is very prestigious, and I saw the opportunity to really explore what the work is about, and the concepts, rather than just filling the space with beautiful, saleable art. It’s great to have deadlines, so I’ve started to hone in on the writing aspect as a way to talk to myself – starting with the image, then fleshing out the answers why… I’m interested in the journey of self-discovery through image making. I take pictures while traveling, or sitting in the passenger seat of a car, watching the world go by. Shooting pictures is like planting seeds — then the harvesting work begins.

Billy: It’s an incredible opportunity to have a show at Hui No‘eau, a special organization that supports and fosters creativity, an abstruse essential that elevates our human condition. This impending exhibition instills discipline, narrows my options, and further defines my style. I paint in the joy of solitude and personal and intimate effort, with few rules and no ending. I search for solutions to a self-inflicted puzzle, often amused by unanticipated images that mysteriously emerge to provide direction. I’m a very slow painter — often working a piece till I don't understand it any longer. I may then set it aside, sometimes for months. Many of my figures are created without models or visual reference other than a peek at a mirror to determine the physiology of a gesture. Some paintings in this exhibition have been in progress for more than a year and a half and I often feel they will never be “finished.” A deadline provides positive restriction to my discontent.

What connections do you strive to convey between your work and the community?

Val: Art serves to carry people to an emotional place they either love, or are stimulated by — some place they want to be. I think there is a “still place” in each of us that is actually an interior place — a common, yet cosmic interior place we go to — where the noise stops. I think I make work that attempts to be a touchstone for this place. We all have our own little dramas, but there are universal connections between us. My work explores these walls that we put up; they are there to protect and defend us, but also serve to link us to others.

Billy: The human figure is familiar and comprehensible, evocative and enigmatic, and the vessel of emotion; a traditional and challenging subject. Within this, I play and explore to make pictures that may not necessarily be understandable or logical, but with thought, experience and the senses — including humor — become universally recognizable.

Learn about past Hui No'eau Solo Artist Exhibitions:
2012 Announcement
2011 Artists
2011 Opening
2010 Announcement
2009 Announcement
2009 Artists

"Having the opportunity to create a new body of work for the Hui No'eau solo exhibition challenged me to produce a visually and conceptually strong exhibition. It was an honor to show a collection of my work in such a beautiful and accessible gallery space."
–Abigail Lee Kahilikia Romanchak (2006 Solo Artist)

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