Realist Art at Windward Community College

Realism Rises: For a growing number of local Honolulu artists, the most exciting painting techniques are the oldest ones.

“Antique Bowl with Figs” by Madeleine McKay

“Charmaine” by Norman Graffam

The art world today rewards street-savvy spraypainters and avant-garde, conceptual weirdness. Not so the Atelier Hawaii studio on the Windward Community College campus. There, you feel you’ve entered a re-imagined scene from Renaissance Italy. Mozart plays in the background, while artists sporting nose rings and tattoos daub their canvases, standing in a forest of easels. For 10 years, Snowden Hodges has led the Atelier, training a small but dedicated army of artists in traditional realist drawing and painting. “We have a hotbed of classical art in this out-of-the-way place,” Hodges says. “Who would guess it? There’s a huge interest now in this type of work.”

The Windward Realists group, which includes Windward faculty Norm Graffam, Jonathan Busse, Toni Martin and Hodges, plus Atelier graduates Jill Butterbaugh, Rene Darrow, Colin Ota and Madeleine McKay, is exhibiting its work this month at the Pegge Hopper Gallery in Chinatown. Expect paintings of still lifes and figures that glow with warm color and wear witty titles.

The Atelier program focuses on the time-tested drawing techniques that hone observation skills and emphasizes the convincing depiction of three-dimensional objects. Butterbaugh attended the Atelier for the fourth time in 2011. “It slows you down and helps you really see what you’re drawing,” she says. “It’s so precise. I keep coming back because it helps refine my drawing skills.”

Other experimental local artists have benefited from going back to the traditional basics. Abstract artist Mary Mitsuda attended the Atelier in 2003, and says, “You’re exploring visual language. For me, it was different to work in a more literal fashion. Everyone’s painting the same thing and you can really see how each artist abstracts the elements and focuses the composition.”

Check out the Windward Realists this month at Pegge Hopper Gallery, 1164 Nuuanu Ave., Nov. 2 to 26. Regular gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.