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.

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.


photos: courtesy abigail romanchak

Abigail Romanchak

“He Iwa Ke Aloha” Media: Paper, ink, carborundum

When a high-school sports injury sent Abigail Romanchak to the sidelines, she headed for the art studio and found her calling. At college, she learned the art of printmaking, in which images are etched or carved into wood or metal plates, which are then inked by hand and applied to a surface. It’s a complex craft that involves many steps, much patience, and a healthy dose of chance. “I like the mystery that’s involved in printmaking,” says Romanchak. “Until you pull that final print, you never really know what you’re going to get. And every print is different.”

For ideas, Romanchak often looks to the land and lore of her native Hawaii. One recent work, a set of abstract-seeming prints collectively titled “Tracks,” documents the GPS-traced footsteps of conservationists across the East Maui Forest Reserve. Honolulu Museum of Art curator Inger Tully describes its installation in the museum’s Biennial IX as “one of those magic moments.” Pictured here is a work that riffs on a line from a Hawaiian epic: “Love is like an iwa bird, drifting out of sight.” Prices start at $850. abigailromanchak.com.


Jonathan Yukio Clark

“‘Alala: Rise with the Sun” Medium: Oil, acrylic, gold leaf, copper leaf, wood stain on panel with laser-cut steel

photos: courtesy jonathan yukio clark

This year, Jonathan Yukio Clark beat out more than 50 other artists to win the lucrative and prestigious Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Schaefer Portrait Challenge with “Grandma’s Story,” a portrait of his grandmother’s life using wood, paint, and silk obi he designed and had printed himself. What’s more, Clark swept the Challenge, taking home both the Juror’s Choice Award and the Marian Freeman Peoples’ Choice Award. Critically acclaimed and popular to boot: not bad for an artist who’s just 24 years old.

Clark’s work gathers traditional elements from Asian craft and folklore, Hawaiian mythology and skillful Western photorealistic painting, and blends them in contemporary ways. For the piece shown here, Clark researched the population history of the alala, or endangered Hawaiian crow, before conceiving an Asian-style screen with open metalwork that makes it seem as if the screen, like the crow, is disappearing before the viewer’s eyes. Prices start at $900. jyclark.com.


Jaisy Hanlon

“Animal Vegetable, Mineral 2” Media: Watercolor, Copper, Enamel on paper

photos: courtesy jaisy hanlon

Artists often find their influences in other art. Painter and metalworker Jaisy Hanlon, one of five artists selected by the Honolulu Museum of Art for this year’s Biennial X, has a different creative wellspring. Though she studied traditional arts in college, Hanlon turned to scientific illustration and to the craft of metalsmithing, in which she has a master’s degree, to find her subject matter and her medium.

Hanlon’s artistic signature comes from the European tradition of silhouette portraiture. Instead of paper, Hanlon uses metal, and instead of people, she cuts out silhouettes of birds, animals and insects. Hovering a quarter of an inch over painted natural backgrounds, Hanlon’s silhouettes ride the boundary between 2-D and 3-D art: “I think of it as drawing with metal.”

Biennial X challenged her to fill a room, so Hanlon thought bigger, using video, silhouette and reflection to pull viewers into “Enlighten,” an installation about the degradation of Hawaii’s natural environment. With the Biennial behind her, Hanlon hopes to scale up even more: “Everywhere I go, I see a building and think, ‘I want to put a silhouette on that!’” Prices start at $800. jaisyhanlon.com.


photos: courtesy jaime allen

Jaime Allen

“Gather” Media: Mixed media; “In Between” Media: Mixed media

When Jamie Allen moved to Hawaii from the East Coast in 2010, with an MFA and a prestigious residency at the Vermont Studio Center under her belt, Lauren Faulkner of Fine Art Associates took one look at her portfolio and recognized that a fresh voice had arrived. “Her work is so exuberant,” says Faulkner. It’s also a new way of representing Hawaii. “Jamie uses a lot of local foliage and flowers, but she presents it in such a contemporary way,” she says.

Using a host of media, ranging from traditional watercolors and acrylics to house paint, resin, shellac and nail polish, Allen gathers objects and ideas from her daily life and creates lush, vibrant plantscapes that feel both familiar and otherworldly. “I take things from the real world, and I make my own landscape, my own little environment,” says Allen. “It’s about a sense of place, but also a place where I want to be.”

Allen’s work speaks to buyers, who have snapped it up as fast as Faulkner can show it. Recently, Allen has begun to receive corporate commissions from places like Whole Foods Market. Prices for larger works start at $2,400. jamierallen.com.


Solomon Enos with work from his “Polyfantastica” series.

photo: mark arbeit

Solomon Enos

“The Thought Manifester,” “The Trillionth Sister” and “The Starmancer”

Solomon Enos is a Native Hawaiian Renaissance man. He has done work the size of a dining hall and book illustrations that can fit in your hand. He has won national recognition for his alternate-history “Polyfantastica” project, shown last year at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. “Polyfantastica,” says Enos, began about a decade ago with a simple question: “What would have happened if we hadn’t been ‘discovered’?”

Enos’s answer is a sprawling, 40,000-year alternate history that begins with ocean-voyaging canoes and ends with peaceful intergalactic evolution. Taking inspiration from science fiction, gaming culture and the Internet, “Polyfantastica” exists as a comic book, a Web site, modeled figures, paintings and more. Enos’s most recent “Polyfantastica” imaginings, seen here, are from this year’s Biennial X at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

It’s a message of poly-possibility that Enos hopes will ring true for young people from indigenous cultures everywhere. “As an artist,” says Enos, “you are responsible for the messages you share. It’s a huge kuleana.” Prices for prints start at $60, but Polyfantastica-related work is not usually for sale. To contact the artist, visit solomonenos.com.


photos: courtesy shuzo Uemoto / honolulu museum of art

Aaron Padilla

“Figure-Eight Knot” Medium: Wood; “Square Knot” Medium: Wood

When he was tapped to be one of Fendi’s Fatto A Mano for the Future artists, working with a craftsperson to create art that could be displayed in a Fendi store, sculptor and painter Aaron Padilla looked to his past for inspiration. “I’ve always been in love with knots. I’ve been a fisherman since I was a little kid, and my dad would teach me” how to tie and use various knots, says Padilla.

After studying weave and knot diagrams, Padilla cut dimensional lumber into hundreds of carefully angled wedges, then reassembled them into the sinuous curves pictured here.  When people ask him why he works with common woods like pine and maple rather than exotics like mango and koa, he replies that he likes to uncover what’s special about everyday materials. “For me, the simple stuff is just as beautiful,” he says, “I want people to discover the complexity in simple things.” Prices for knots start at $1,000. aaronpadilla.com.