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Hawaii Avant Garde

Mt. Kilauea, The House of Everlasting Fire



Every museum has that one painting that you would buy, if given the opportunity and the cash. At the Met, I’d grab Édouard Manet’s “Woman With Parrot” in a New York minute. At the Uffizi, it would be “Madonna of the Harpies” by Renaissance master Andrea del Sarto.

At the Honolulu Academy of Arts, it’s “Mt. Kilauea, the House of Everlasting Fire” (above) by Ambrose Patterson. An Australian who lived briefly in Hawaii during World War I, Patterson studied art as a youth in Europe with John Singer Sargent and showed alongside Henri Matisse. As an adult, he settled in Seattle, where he painted, taught and lived out his days. 

Patterson was obviously inspired by the Big Island’s steaming gases, arcing lava geysers and raw, rough rocks. The glowing magma seared patterns on his retinas, and he came away with an experience of an explosive caldera so intense that his bright orange paint appears splattered on the canvas just yesterday. While the truth is that he exploited abstract, expressive drips 35 years before Jackson Pollock and deconstructed the landscape seven decades before Neil Welliver, his painting looks as fresh now as the night he finished it 90 years ago. It remains ahead of its time.

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