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Rising Artists in Hawaii

There’s more to Hawaii’s contemporary art than ocean scenes and hula dancers. Check out these eight delectably collectible artists whose careers are gathering speed.


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photo: courtesy shuzo uemoto

photo: courtesy honolulu museum of art

Maikai Tubbs

“Poppy Culture” Media: Plastic spoons, forks, plates

Until the start of 2012, Maikai Tubbs had been out of the United States only once. This spring, Tubbs returned from a three-month residency at Canada’s Banff Centre with a show lined up in Toronto for the fall, an upcoming arts exchange to Tahiti and a verbal invitation to come back to the Banff Centre “any time” from Kitty Scott, one of Canada’s most powerful arts doyennes. Now Tubbs has his sights set on the Venice Biennale and, by God, it looks possible from here.

Tubbs uses disposable and castoff materials, making skyscrapers out of styrofoam, embroidering endangered birds out of obsolete audiotape and melting down plastic cutlery into gardens of alien-looking flowers. Part of his impetus to make art, he laughs, is that “I’m a hoarder. I come from a family of hoarders. When you buy 20 boxes of these things for 99 cents each, what do you do with them?” But he can also wax eloquent: “I’m thinking about the way that we discard things. And how flimsy that balance is, wanting to keep something and wanting to throw it away. I like figuring out a way to make it have a life on its own.” Prices start at $200. maikaitubbs.com.


photo: mark arbeit

Jacqueline Rush Lee

Artist shown with “Lorem Ipsum 3” Media: book components, archival glue, hand-stitched elements

What do you do with a used book? Use it to prop up a wobbly table? Jacqueline Rush Lee sews them, hammers them, paints them, burns them, dissolves them and screws them together. In short, she transforms them. Though Lee began as a clay artist, books have been her medium of choice since she put one in a hot kiln and found the results beautiful.

Lee, who was born in Northern Ireland, considers herself a “late arrival” to the art world (she got her MFA at age 36), but she is also at the forefront of the global collectors’ craving for art made of books and paper. “It’s a trendy medium right now,” says Lee. Why? Art expresses the age in which it’s made, she says. While traditional materials such as bronze and stone evoke permanence, explains Lee, “We live in an age in which everything is much more disposable. Today, we work with recycled mediums, like paper.”

Lee’s work is collected internationally and has appeared in national publications such as The New Yorker and The Washington Post. Prices start at $2,500. jacquelinerushlee.com.

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Honolulu Magazine July 2020
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